A Handicapped Analysis of the Costs of NAIS
Since it is obvious that the proposed NAIS (National Animal Identification System) is going to be quite costly to producers I have decided to do some research to try to figure out the probable costs to a smallish homestead. There are no actual figures available from the USDA, so it hampers things a bit. One of the more interesting things I have found is that nowhere in the world is such an elaborate system as the one proposed by the USDA actually in place. As a matter of fact, USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Johanns has spoken the full truth when he said in the implementation plan teleconference in April of 2006:
"My point is this, and I think I've made it before. It isn't timing relative to administration; it isn't timing relative to politics. It's timing relative to a very, very huge undertaking. I said recently that nothing this big has been undertaken anywhere in the world………."
The truth is, other countries generally have much less intensive reporting requirements and significantly fewer species involved in their identification schemes. In the EU they employ a passport system with the RFID (radio frequency identification device)in the document, and tagging in at least the cattle's ears. Yet their reporting requirements are very similar to those the USDA wants to require and there are more species involved than in the Aussie system which presently only covers cattle. In the EU they require these passports for cattle, swine, sheep and horses. The figures used here are all in the British system and I simply converted pounds to dollars so it would be more understandable to Americans. Proposed costs were $13.25-$18.90 (that's 7-10 pounds) per animal and actual reported costs are between $37.86-$94.66 (or 20 and 50 pounds) per head. Since the USDA Secretary of Agriculture and research verifies that our system is going to be more complicated than any other nation's systems, the base I will use for my costs are going to be the one's available in UK documents. It seems logical that a more complex system would actually have higher costs than a more simple system, but to avoid arguments, I am using the actual figures I could find. Poultry is not required in the British system, but the lowest cost per animal appears to be 20 pounds. I readily grant that it is subjective, but since there has been no cost analysis done, and the touted $3 tag cost is for the tag and not the program, I've had to pull from places that actually have a program and costs available for that program.
So now let's imagine you have a small farm with some milk goats, chickens and guinea fowl, a couple of horses for pleasure and a couple of bottle calves for your children to raise for their spending money and one for your own consumption. This is an extremely common scenario amongst homes where people want to provide their own food to some degree and desire to live a 'simple' life in which their children can be raised with good food and an understanding of taking good care of things so they will work together and are beneficial to each other. So much for sensibilities.
The NAIS arrives on the scene and you have decided that you will try your best to comply with the new regulations. First, you must secure your license to farm, or premise identification number. This is issued by the state and because you didn't volunteer early and the program has now become mandatory with enforcement, the price is $10 per year.
You have six milk goats who kid once per year. You have always used a neighbor's buck for breeding purposes so thankfully you don't have to register him. There are 12 chickens at present, but two are setting on clutches and they are due to hatch out in two weeks. The last time you were able to get a count on those guineas you had 10 of them, but today you only saw seven while you were doing morning chores. Maybe they are setting on eggs as well? Uh-oh. The three calves are still where they are supposed to be, so all is well with them, but you don't have a head gate, so you have called the vet out to help with them and the horses.
Thus far you have purchased all the AIN tags you will need (kinda worried about those guineas though!), the "data accumulator" or in English, a laptop computer($1200) which you will keep in the barn so you can record all vaccinations and medications administered, and the handheld wand ($450) and the cords ($40) required to ensure you don't make a number transposition on those 15 digit tags, the software you have was provided free for a thirty day trial period, and you are now ready to become NAIS compliant.
The tag costs are higher than they said they would be because of the agencies that had to be employed to keep track of all the tags. The company you bought the tags from includes free entry into the database for the animal with purchase of their tags, so you saved the 30¢ fee on each of those reports. The cost for each identification device is $37.86 on the goats, cattle and even (gulp!) the poultry! This is because as the documents repeatedly state, the system must be uniform. Horses are higher because they are considered to be luxury animals, so the cost for them is $47.70.
The cost for the poultry is just insane, and you have decided that you're just going to do this batch and forget any more registrations. I mean heck, $832.92 for the birds is foolishness! But they do keep the ticks and grasshoppers down making it possible for you to have a garden and your dogs can come in the house without ticks all over them. Also the eggs from the chickens are so much better than the ones from the store that you have justified the expense through looking into cholesterol studies and protein assimilation studies over the internet (on that new laptop you had to pay $1200 for so you could be in compliance) and you just know one day you'll be short of eggs while cooking and the 20 mile one way trip to the store is a major expense with gas at $4 per gallon now. Catching those guineas is a major concern as well. But if you don't and someone reports you it is $1,000 per day fine, so you bit the bullet and ordered the tags for them anyway.
The goats definitely seem to justify the expense more. They give you both milk and cheese and let the kids raise up those calves so they can buy some of the things they are in an endless state of 'dying to have.' The goats only cost you $226.92 and you figure they can eat a little less and be just fine anyway. The calves cost $113.58 and you are hoping prices hold out until they are ready to sell as that should help you with the costs of the goats and chickens….fingers crossed on this thought!!!
The horses. Oh boy. The whole family got together and decided the horses simply had to stay even though they aren't putting any food on the table because we might just need them to be able to go to town with the way the gas prices are going up and the new war in the middle east keeps worsening on a daily basis. It's cheaper to feed the horse than the car, so it was unanimous. Besides, the price horses brought had plummeted because of the system getting close to mandatory and you waited too long to sell. So the horses cost $95.40, so long as you don't ride them….Reporting their movements is 30¢ every time you take them off the property and 30¢ every time you bring them back. The horses seem to be some kind of insurance on the hoof, plus they sure are nice to look at in the morning.
Thus far you have spent at total of $2,968.82 to be compliant with the NAIS. Of course you had to put all this on a credit card as you only make $20,000 per year, so somewhere in the figuring you will need to remember the interest rate of 15.8 percent, but that seems trivial and not even worth considering if you think about the national debt for half a second. Anyway, there are things to do and the vet should be here to put the chips in the horses and cows with his portable squeeze gate in about an hour. Usually he charges $55 to come out for a visit to the farm based on a two hour visit tops, but the office girl informed you he was having to charge a bit more due to all the extra reporting now.
As you eat breakfast while waiting for the vet to come and musing over how on earth you are going to keep from going bankrupt, the local radio station reports that the area sale barn has upped it's commission charge from $12 per head to $35 because it has to run so many cattle through again due to the poor read rates. Oh bother. In defense of the sale barn, the fines for not having the farm of origin recorded correctly can get up to $500 per offense, so they have to watch their errors very closely.
The vet arrives and you get the portable squeeze gate into the calf pasture and coax them with a bottle into the thing even though they are waaaay past weaning age. You've just been trying to get them to grow as much as possible to help pay for things. You've decided that this year you will sell the calf to someone else for beef and just hope that the imported meat at the supermarket doesn't get above $6 per pound.
The calf tagging goes pretty well and you get the tags entered into your wand without difficulty. Now you head on to the horses. The gelding goes into the chute without trouble and the chip is inserted into his neck with only two attempts by the vet. You get that entry into the wand as well and are actually starting to think this is pretty cool. Then the mare goes in. She is not a happy camper. Holding her head still should be some kind of an Olympic or extreme sports event and that hand is really going to swell up on you in a little while. After what seems like forever the vet gets the chip in her neck. When you go to read it with your wand she flips her head and smashes the wand into the side of the squeeze chute, and the blasted thing busts into pieces all over the ground and the portable chute. Super glue ain't gonna fix it. You've only got one week until the entire system is mandatory with enforcement and you still have all those dang birds and goats to implant and band!!!
Since you've known your vet for years he has some empathy for you and says he'd be happy to help you tag the other animals so you can just enter everything into his wand and still get it uploaded to the proper databases before the fines set in on you. Just then, one of the dad burned guineas comes out of the brush with heaven only knows how many keets in tow!!! You don't have the tags for those keets. Awwww nuts!!! Plus the vet is there and he is required by law to report any sightings of untagged animals. That's $1,000 per event in fines to you or the loss of his license if he fails to do so! Man. There were at least 10 keets although you are sure there will only be six tomorrow.
Right now you want to quit. Doc says "Hey, don't worry about it, you still have a whole week to get it all done and I have ten tags for poultry right on my truck." He's a real helpful sort. After he scans the mare who is still in the chute you let her loose and load the gelding back in for scanning. Now it's back to the calf pasture to re-scan those boys. It takes 30 minutes to get them back in the chute because they are so full they can't be easily coaxed with the bottle any longer.
Next you go to do the goats as you have decided that there is no way to get the wand in time to avoid fines, and you know your vet is a nice guy but fears for his job if he is proven to not enforce this system properly. The girls behave quite well while the microchip is inserted into their tail webs. They definitely deserve a treat.
The chickens are all in the yard so it only takes 25 minutes or so to get the id bands on them. The vet notices the clutches under the two hens and asks how many tags you think you'll need for the imminent chicks. When you say you'll just get in touch with him when they hatch out he gives you a 'look'. Oh boy. So much for mister nice guy.
It's time to move onto the guineas. Too bad the 12 year old boy is in school as he's really fast and actually stands a chance at getting a few of them. Since you know you were missing three adults yesterday you decide to go back to the brush in the horse pasture first. Bingo!!! Two more guineas are in there setting on clutches. Drat. You get one of the hens and get the band on her but the other one takes off and actually abandons her nest rather than giving herself up. It breaks your heart, but rather than spend several hundred more on tags since you know the vet will be back after 'the look' in the chicken coop you squash the nearly hatched out keets in their shells. After trying for a good half hour to get the rest of the guineas the vet just decides to leave you with the tags and you can call him to come back and scan them when you've got them all penned up. You tell him that you don't have any pen that will keep the guineas inside….All you have is the chicken coop and they flat fly over the yard for the chickens. He assures you that he's sure you can get it worked out, after all those fines are too high to chance getting any just over the lack of a completely enclosed pen for the guineas. He's absolutely right.
Since your momma didn't raise any fools you invite him in for coffee before he hands you the bill for the morning's events. He starts writing the durn thing up while you still fixing his coffee!! That isn't good. As you set the coffee down on the table you invite him to have some of the fresh coffee cake setting right in front of him still slightly warm from the oven. After you've chatted a bit about the weather and such trivialities for 10 minutes he slides the bill over to you and you spew coffee out of your mouth across the table and all over the fresh coffee cake. Guess he won't have any after all. It's $110 for his time, $5 per each application $3 for each read (including uploads into the meta data system…thank heavens!) and $378.60 for the ten extra tags for the keets….next to that he wrote (chickens, too) letting you know he's definitely cutting you some slack. That's a tidy sum of $680.60. Not bad for a morning's work at all.
Your smallish farm total is now up to a sum of $3,649.42 and you still have to buy that new dadgum wand again. Obviously this system is affordable and worth every penny.
***Remember that this system is more complex than any other and no costs are available to really judge costs with except for the actual hardware necessary for the 'data accumulation and transfers'. The USAIO said in an article in the spring of '06 that they anticipate charging 30¢ per entry into the repository. All government programs usually stay under budget as we know. Tongue is firmly planted in cheek with that comment.