From the hot iron branding on livestock’s skin to ear tags fitted with micro chips, livestock branding has been used to assist owners easily locate their livestock and control theft, but technology is making livestock branding a painless and sophisticated affair.
Kenyan livestock farmers have for long been using the traditional methods of cattle branding that were introduced way back during the colonial period. In Kenya the current trend of livestock branding was coined way back in 1907 by the colonial government and since then, there have been numerous advances in the technological sector that have redefined livestock branding.
According to Dr James Kariuki the coordinator of a new project that embraces technology in livestock branding, there is need to devise better humane practices in branding that are not only efficient but also offer practical solutions to the current ills in the sector especially disease infections, theft and conflict among livestock farmers.
The hot iron branding is singled out to be among the cruelest way that has necessitated the introduction of the new methods of branding that incorporate GPS trackers in the tags. Under the old branding models, the animals literally undergo torture. “The animal is captured, roped and laid on the ground with its legs tied together and an identifying mark is burned into the animals’ body with an extremely hot branding iron that has been heated in a fire. The hot iron stamp, or "brand," is pressed hard into the animal's flesh for several seconds without anesthesia. If this was done to a human, it would be considered torture,” explained Dr Kariuki. He advised that this is unnecessary pain for an animal and should be banned and replaced by ear tagging enabled with micro-chipping.
The new ear tags with micro chips are fitted with unique codes that identify the animal and the owner and the details recorded in the central databases which are located in different strategic locations like county slaughter houses, agricultural ministry, and at the county border posts at the anti stock theft unit of the Kenya police.
The GPS tracker ear tag also poses unique county codes and therefore any animal that is moved from one county to another with no official papers will be deemed stolen by the authorities. In case of theft, the animal’s owner reports to the nearest animal database unit and the animal unique code in the tag micro chip is blacklisted with immediate such commencing. Any animals passing through the strategic locations like county borders and slaughter house will be subjected to the search using the radio receiver that will identify the unique code in question.
Unlike the traditional branding, the GPS tags do not inflict wounds on the animals and are clipped on the animals’ ear just like a dummy earring. “We are currently trialing out the technology in Laikipia ranches and among other pastoral communities in Northern Kenya. We hope to commercial the model as soon as we get enough funding due to the huge success we have received among the farmers who have tried it out,” noted Dr Kariuki. The price of the GPS tracker may range from Sh150-400 depending on the logistical cost that will arise at the commercialization stage.