Scanner keeps an eye on animals

ALAN CLARK OF OPTIBRAND performs a retinal scan of a cow. The Mesa County 4-H Club recently acquired an Optibrand eye scanner, which catalogs the animals for identification purposes.

Animals don’t carry a driver’s license for identification, so how do you tell who’s who in the animal world?

The answer is in the eye.

Earlier this month, the 4-H Club of Mesa County acquired an Optibrand eye scanner. The device shines a light into an animal’s eye and takes a photograph of the veins in the back of its eye.

The unique eye pattern is then catalogued and kept in a computer database with other photographs of the animal. Although not in widespread use — Optibrand introduced its first commercial product in 2004 — the eye scan could be the dawn of a new era in animal identification.

“By doing this electronic identification, we are going to place the 4-H family in a positive position
if and when the federal government institutes this animal-identification program,” said Dinah Peebles, 4-H youth development agent.

Mesa County’s 4-H club uses nose prints (similar to human fingerprints), ear tags and electronic chips embedded under the skin to identify livestock at competitions. But there have been numerous problems with all of the methods: The nose prints require people trained specifically in print identification; the ear tags can easily be ripped out; and the electronic chips are sometimes unreadable.

DNA and blood samples are another reliable identifier of animals, but testing can be expensive, and it takes weeks for results.

“How does an outside person look at that animal and say which one is which?” Peebles asked.
Alan Clark, director of customer relations at Optibrand, had the answer Peebles and 4-H were seeking. Earlier this month, he traveled to Mesa County and trained several club members on the camera and the attached computer.

“We are not the cavalry riding in trying to change everything they are doing. It’s just to strengthen what they are doing,” Clark said.

The camera and computer, tethered together by a wire, allow a person with little training to take accurate photographs. It also has a Global Positioning System to record the location, time and date of the photo, Clark said.

The camera can take pictures of any tags the animal has and its face. The pictures are grouped together in a computer database for quick reference and also can be kept by Optibrand in a separate database, so experts can assist in identifying animals when asked, Clark said.

Optibrand, founded in 1998 by three Colorado State University professors — Dr. Bruce Golden, Ralph Switzer and Bernard Rollin — charged 4-H about $2,500 for its camera, software and computer.

The camera is safe for the animals and causes them no more harm than a person’s trip to an optometrist, Clark said.


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