|From The State Vet's Office|
|The Importance of Record Keeping|
I am a government employee and I hate paperwork. Can I say that in public? Well, I guess I have, so I’ll say it again. I hate paperwork. I wonder if I say it three times in a row and click my heels together, all of the paperwork would disappear. Probably not. You are probably familiar with the old saying, "The job isn’t finished until the paper work is done." The government version of that is, "The job isn’t finished until the paper work is done…..in triplicate."
The fact I dislike paperwork does not in any way diminish the importance of it. We use the term paperwork when in reality we could substitute recordkeeping. In fact, when we use recordkeeping, I feel better about it already. Keeping records is important in many aspects of life. If you don’t think so, ask someone who has been audited by the IRS. And as I said earlier, the government believes in keeping records. While it may be cumbersome and tedious, it is very important.
I have a friend who is 50 years old and recently needed a copy of his original birth certificate. All he had to do was call some government agency with the State of Alabama and, like magic, two days later, it appeared in his mailbox (for a nominal fee, of course). The point is the birth certificate was recorded 50 years ago. That was back in the days before computers. Although I am fairly sure all of those old records have been scanned into a computer for data storage, it was not always done that way.
It was not until recently you could store the amount of information contained in enough encyclopedias to fill the Atlantic Ocean on something the size of a pinhead (well, maybe I exaggerate.) Nonetheless, I am reminded of the emphasis we place on keeping records when I occasionally visit our records room in the basement of our building. We keep items like brucellosis vaccination charts, brucellosis test records, TB test charts and health certificates. That information may come in handy as long as the animal is alive, and sometimes becomes even more important when the animal dies or is slaughtered, especially if a disease like TB is discovered.
Finally, to get to the point, I would like to emphasize the importance of producers keeping records. A recordkeeping system can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. The foundation of a recordkeeping system is individual identification. Individual identification should at a minimum include some type of permanent ID like a brand, metal tag or RFID (radio frequency identification device). I realize owners of small herds of livestock or horse owners may know every animal by their names, but once the animals experience a change of ownership, they may go under an alias or an assumed name….thus, the loss of identity to any previous farm.
For my purpose, beyond individual identification, I would like for you to keep on a sheet of paper in a notebook, drawer, shoe box or something the information of where the animal came from and when, where and to whom the animal was sold. When we do epidemiological investigations (somewhat like you would see on the TV show "House," but not as exciting) for animal diseases, we have seen the complete spectrum. There are producers who have records of every animal that has resided on their place, including medical and production histories. Then there are those whose typical answer to a question might be, "You’re kidding me? You want me to remember where I got a black cow that I sold three years ago? Do you have any idea how many black cows have come and gone on this farm over the last 20 years?"
The fact is the information we are trying to ascertain is where the disease may have originated and what other animals may have been exposed. It is also a matter of economic importance. The speed, or lack of speed, of an epidemiological investigation may have an effect on how soon a farm quarantine can be released. And, in extreme cases, it may effect how soon borders are reopened to our products. Often lack of records will result in testing of animals that may not have been necessary if proper records existed.
In diseases like BSE, though not contagious from animal to animal, our international trading partners require we make every attempt trace the positive animal to the farm of origin. Diseases like bovine tuberculosis (which is not going away), brucellosis and contagious equine metritis (CEM) (which we are dealing with now) require us to trace these animals to be able to quarantine and test potentially exposed animals. Having accurate records is a tremendous help controlling the spread of disease.
I encourage each producer to develop some type of recordkeeping system for the movement of animals onto and off the farm. While it is strictly voluntary, the National Animal Identification System can meet those needs, develop some type of system that works for you. Hopefully, you will never be called upon to retrieve information for the purpose of disease tracing, but when needed records are an invaluable asset.