For the Love of Goats
Someone emailed me after her first experience tattooing goats and said, “There has to be a better way to identify goats. What can you tell me about microchips?” Luckily I had already scheduled an interview with Allysse Sorenson, Chief Executive Herder of The Munch Bunch and webmaster at HireGoats.com.
Allysse has microchipped all of her caprine “employees” to not only identify them but also to keep track of them. In this episode, we are talking about why she decided to microchip her goats, how a microchip works, and some common misconceptions about microchips.
We also talk about Scrapie program requirements for identifying each goat, the different brands available, and where to place the microchip on the goat, as well as who might not want to microchip their goats.
Allysse goes on to talk about apps and technologies related to microchips and how they can make your record keeping easier.
For more information
American Dairy Goat Association EID policy (as of Jan. 2018)
Listen right here by clicking on the player above, or on your favorite platform:
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode. Today is really exciting for a couple of reasons. First of all, we are joined today by Allysse Sorensen, who is the chief executive herder of The Munch Bunch, and she’s also the webmaster at HireGoats.com. And, as cool as those things are, we’re not going to talk about them. What we are actually going to talk about today is microchipping goats. So, welcome to the show, Allysse.
Allysse Sorensen 0:49
Thanks so much for having me. I’m just… I’m a big fan. So it’s fun to share all this information that I’ve collected to your greater audience.
Deborah Niemann 0:58
Thank you! Yeah, it’s great to have you. When my daughters were still at home, they were very excited about the prospect of microchipping our goats, and we never actually did it; we still kept going with the super messy tattoo ink—which is not permanent by any means. But, the microchipping thing seemed a little expensive, and mostly because of the reader, and so that slowed us down. So anyway, I’m excited to have you join us today to talk about it, because I think in our emails before, when we were planning this, you said you had microchipped hundreds of goats, which I said, “That’s more than anyone I’ve ever heard of.” So, was it, like, 600 goats?
Allysse Sorensen 1:44
Yeah. I think I’m at, about, more than 600 goats at this point. Yeah.
Deborah Niemann 1:48
Okay. So let’s just start, like, very basic. Like, why did you decide to start microchipping your goats?
Allysse Sorensen 1:56
Well, it all kind of falls back into how I got started with goats to begin with. I was a volunteer on organic farms in Sweden. And one of the ways that I sort of sustained myself there was by being on goat farms. And so, I visited a variety of goat farms there. And the farmers were using all sorts of different methods; we had everything from ear notches to plastic tags to, you know, little metal clips, tags. And all of them were complaining about it. And it didn’t seem like any of them were very happy with that system. And so, when I went home and started getting my own goats, I thought, “Well, if they weren’t very happy with that, maybe I should look at something else.” And I fell on microchips, because they’re inside, and I think one of the cool things about it is you get to keep the natural look of the goat and just have a little tiny grain of rice in their ear or in their tail fold, and just have your goat. And I just kind of liked that. And then there were all these other technologies that I learned that I could apply because I had microchips.
Deborah Niemann 3:11
That’s really cool. And I love the idea that you have some options there in terms of, like, you can do it under their ear or in their ear or under their tail, because especially I raised LaManchas for about 10 years. And they have no ears. So, when you go to tattoo them, it has to be in the tail web, which is just… It’s even worse than tattooing ears, because there’s not much skin there. So you’re like—I remember messaging people online and saying, “How do you tattoo these poor goats?” Because there is just not much skin next to the tail to be able to do that. And so, I think especially for LaMancha breeders, this could be super awesome. So, can you tell us a little bit about how a microchip works?
Allysse Sorensen 3:57
Yes. So, I hope I don’t get too technical, but basically, like I said, a microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. And when a reader scans it, it sends an electromagnetic signal and it just picks up like a 12 to 15 digit number for that chip. And then that, then, is put on your reader or on your computer.
Deborah Niemann 4:21
So, some people talk about RFIDs kind of interchangeably with the word “microchip.” Is that the same thing?
Allysse Sorensen 4:28
Yeah, so that’s probably one of the stumbling blocks for people to get into this, is because there’s so much language around this technology. So, RFID just means “radio frequency identification device.” And for goats, that really just comes in two forms. So it’s going to come in a form of a microchip, which is also called an “electronic implant” or a “transponder,” or it would come in the form of an ear tag, where that technology is on the outside of the animal, like, in the plastic ear tag itself.
Deborah Niemann 5:03
Okay. What are some common misconceptions about microchips?
Allysse Sorensen 5:08
So, common misconceptions. I would say the biggest one is the ability to track animals. Most people say, “Oh, that’s so great that you can microchip your goats, because then you know exactly where they are at all times.” And that’s not how a microchip works at all. It’s simply a number that corresponds to that animal. So, I have no way of knowing where that goat is. Nobody can track your goat with your microchip. Where it’s handy is just for reference of who that goat is.
Allysse Sorensen 5:56
Another common misconception is: There’s no battery in the microchip. It doesn’t need one, so it’s never going to die. In fact, the microchip lifespan is going to be far beyond any goat lifespan, even the really old goats that, you know. People claim, you know, those long ages, and it will exceed that. Definitely.
Allysse Sorensen 6:25
Another misconception is that it needs a special applicator, like, “Where do I buy the applicator to insert the microchip?” You don’t need any special applicator. Each microchip is within its own housing and needle. So, all you’re doing is injecting the microchip with a needle. So if you can do vaccinations, you can insert a microchip.
Allysse Sorensen 6:50
And then, I guess the other misconception that I wanted to talk about was the expense of microchips. And I think that’s really just going to come down to a personal feeling of how expensive it feels to you. It costs about $6 per goat to microchip. And so, when you’re comparing it to plastic, or the 100 free tags that you get from APHIS, then yes, that’s going to be more expensive. But the related technology that you can get with it may make that $6 more worthwhile to you. And often I think of it as, “Yes, I’m going to put $6 into this goat, but if I need to, I can add that $6 on to the sale price of that goat.”
Deborah Niemann 7:36
That’s really good to know, because, like, 20 years ago, they were actually $10 apiece. So, you know, like a lot of technology, the price has gone down as it’s gotten to be more popular. And then, since you’re talking about price, how much does the reader cost?
Allysse Sorensen 7:51
Yeah, so there are three different types of readers that you can get. And the first and most common for goats would be a wand reader. Those you can typically buy for about $1,200 to $2,500. And that’s because of the functionality of them, that you can take that out into the field and record information without Wi-Fi. And they do have lots of features. But that’s probably the easiest one to work with when you are trying to record information. If you just have a small herd, and you want to use microchips, but you don’t necessarily need to record the information, you can get what’s called a pocket reader. And those have really come down in price; they are less than $50. And they pick up basically any microchip kind available on the market today. They’re very handy, they literally do fit in your pocket these days, they’re very easy to read, and they don’t require Wi-Fi. Now, they don’t usually store the number. That’s why you’re paying money for the wand reader, to be able to go out and store that numerical information. But if you just need to reference what animal it is, a pocket reader is great. And then, the third type of reader would be a panel reader. And you would usually use that in a setting where you’re moving animals through a confined situation, where the animal is walking past the reader. And so, mostly those are used for cattle operations. But, in some cases, there may be a situation where you would want a panel reader for your goat operation. But those are stationary.
Deborah Niemann 9:42
That’s really good to know. The prices have definitely come down a lot since we looked at it. I think it was a couple hundred dollars for the pocket reader when we were originally considering it, and so less than $50 sounds great now!
Allysse Sorensen 9:56
Deborah Niemann 9:56
I think that that definitely reduces the barrier for entry for a lot of people. You mentioned APHIS a moment ago, and that is the government organization that handles the scrapie program. And I know one of the big reasons why the American Dairy Goat Association said that they didn’t want to accept microchips for a really long time was because APHIS did not accept it for scrapie. Is that still the case? Or do they accept them now?
Allysse Sorensen 10:31
So, the APHIS standards do accept an 840 microchip, and so that’s a special prefix for the United States—starts with 8-4-0. And so, it’s really easy to tell if the microchip meets that standard, because the first three numbers are 8-4-0. They also will list the two companies that are currently scrapie approved, and those are on their website, but the first company is Microchip ID Systems. And the other company is EZid.
Deborah Niemann 11:06
And that’s really great to know that any reader will now read all of the microchips. Because that was another thing, too, that I think slowed some people down, was knowing that, like, they would have to have their own reader when they went to shows and stuff, because the readers were unique to each brand. So, can you tell us a little bit more about what… Like, when you go shopping for microchips, there are different brands. What are some of the differences? What do you look for?
Allysse Sorensen 11:35
Well, since there are only two companies, typically with the Microchip ID Systems, you would purchase what’s called a “mini needle,” and it would be the 840. And what’s nice about that is it’s a much smaller needle than, maybe, previous generations of microchips were. It’s a lot easier to put in. And I don’t particularly have experience with the Avid or EZid microchip, but I’m sure it’s comparable in size. And so I think, because we’re limited by what APHIS approves, that’s really what you should be looking for is just the 840 number.
Deborah Niemann 12:16
And then, once you’ve purchased the microchips, where exactly should you place them? I know in the beginning people put some, like, between the shoulder blades of goats, and then they discovered that they migrated all over the place and you couldn’t find them. So, we don’t want to do that. So, where’s the right place to put them?
Allysse Sorensen 12:33
Yeah, so you’re absolutely right, definitely not like a dog or a cat; in between the shoulder blades is not the correct location. So, the two places that you are allowed to microchip a goat, the first location is at the base of the ear—between the head and the ear. There is a little bit of cartilage in there, and, you know, if you kind of move your goat’s ear up and down, you can tell that there’s a space there. And you can put the microchip right in that little spot. The second location is in the tail fold. And there are videos online of how to insert microchips, and I would say that there are more videos on the tail fold method, probably because of LaManchas. But I personally put them up by the head. I find that I like to scan the goats up there rather than, like, by the butt. I just like it better; I can visually tell more about a goat by the head then down over there. So, if I’m quickly scanning goats, I think it just makes a little bit more sense for us. But it’s certainly producer preference. One thing that I would warn against is: Once you start to microchip, pick a spot. Be firm with that idea. Go either on the head or the tail fold. Because you don’t want to be searching for a microchip depending on which goat it is. You want to be sure that all of them are in one location.
Deborah Niemann 14:11
Right. That sounds like a really good idea. Are there any reasons that someone shouldn’t use microchips?
Allysse Sorensen 14:18
I would say that if you are predominantly a meat goat operation, and you know that the animals are not going to be in your care or meant to have a long lifespan, then microchips probably aren’t the best option for you. But that doesn’t preclude you from using RFID technology. You can use button tags, which have the scanability of a microchip but they’re on the external portion of the goat, their on the ear. And so, you might not want to invest the money that a microchip costs, nor would you necessarily want it to be a factor in the meat of that carcass.
Deborah Niemann 15:01
Would the RFID tags cost less than the microchips?
Allysse Sorensen 15:06
Yes. I don’t have the exact amount that they cost, because I don’t use them. But I know they do cost significantly less than the microchips.
Deborah Niemann 15:16
Okay. So, other than identifying individual goats, is there any other reason that you would have microchips?
Allysse Sorensen 15:24
So, there’s a lot of great reasons to have microchips. It’s like, where do I begin? So, having a microchip really allows me to employ other technologies around recordkeeping. So, one of the biggest problems that we have as farmers is often there’s no internet out in the field, or you can’t really exactly get Wi-Fi out there. If you’re out in the pasture and trying to check on some goats, or you’re managing them out there, one of the great things about having a wand reader is that you can scan that goat and tell the wand reader what you did with it, it stores that information, you bring it back to the computer, and you don’t have to enter that information into the computer. The software will just pull that information in for you, and then the next time you need to look something up, it’s there for you.
Deborah Niemann 16:14
Wow, that’s convenient. Can you add anything extra, like FAMACHA scores or anything like that?
Allysse Sorensen 16:19
There is so much data that you could collect. In fact, I went a little collection heavy, and I started thinking, “Oh, I should collect who has wattles and what color eyes they have, and then I could do all this genetic thing, and try and figure out who’s going to be born with what, based on…” You know? And in the end, it was like, wait, this is not what I should be collecting. The best things to collect are FAMACHA and weight and who did I deworm? How many times have I done hoof trimming for this animal? Those are management decisions that will really help you improve your herd. And so, yes, you can collect anything under the sun that you want to collect. So you just have to figure out what is going to be most helpful to you as a producer. But that’s what this electronic recordkeeping does for producers.
Deborah Niemann 17:16
Wow, that sounds awesome! You are rapidly selling me on the idea of microchips. So, can you give me some examples of other ways that the reader helps you with your targeted grazing business?
Allysse Sorensen 17:30
Yes, actually, I have a great story for this. So, we’ve been doing targeted grazing for six years now, so we’re pretty old hat. And a few years ago we were at a job site, and the goats were communicating really well with us, and we thought that it would be really easy to load them up in the trailer. And so we just loaded them all up. And we actually broke our protocol, because we felt like they loaded up so well that we didn’t need to individually scan them to make sure that they were all there. But, as we were driving away, I thought to myself, “I don’t think I saw this old baggy goat called Mother Goose.” And I made my husband turn around. We went back to the site, and there really weren’t any goats present. So we scanned everybody in the trailer, and sure enough, Mother Goose wasn’t there. So we looked around the site more, and we finally found her under a pontoon boat that had been brought up onto shore, and she was just hanging out under there getting some cool shade. But, had we simply scanned all the goats before we left the property, we would have known that she was missing because the wand reader would have told us that she was not there.
Allysse Sorensen 18:52
And so, what the wand reader does for us in general is we mark which goats have gone to which site, so we know exactly where goats are. And then, when we load them back up, we know that we have all of them. Which sounds really funny if you’re just on one farm, but when you’re working on lots of different sites, you do, you want to make sure you have everybody. But you can just use that just out in the field, too, if you need to make sure that someone didn’t go through this strand fencing. Or, you can just take your wand reader and scan all the goals you can, and it’ll say “Bubbles is not here.” And you can look around and say, “I don’t see Bubbles with my eyes, either. There must be something wrong.” I can’t tell you how many times you’ve looked out and you can say, “Okay, I count 34 goats.” But the next time I count there’s 35 goats, and the time before that there’s 32 goats, and you can never really be sure, no matter how many times you count, you know, if you’ve got babies and big goats and… And so that wand reader really gives me that security, that peace of mind.
Deborah Niemann 20:04
That’s a really great story. And I can see where somebody with your kind of a business would find that whole system really important.
Allysse Sorensen 20:14
Yeah, absolutely. I like to say that it is the most expensive pencil and paper that I’ve ever owned. Because it is, it’s just a glorified pencil and paper, but it provides me with so much security and quick recordkeeping and analysis that it’s so worth it for me.
Deborah Niemann 20:34
Does the reader come with its own software or app? Or is that something that you have to buy separately to work with it?
Allysse Sorensen 20:41
Yeah, so that’s a great question. So, let me separate this. Microchips can be purchased just by themselves. And that has nothing to do with readers. But when you decide on a reader, then that’s when you should start thinking about software and recordkeeping apps. And it’s possible that you’re using one already, and you think, “Do I need to switch or not?” So, when you’re buying a wand reader, typically those come with their own software. And so, you want to be looking at the software just as much as what the wand reader itself does. And so, I use a Gallagher HR5, which has a screen on it so that you can see the animal history and what’s been done with that animal. But not all of them have that; some of them link to an app on your phone. So, it just depends on how you want to work with it, and how technologically savvy are you, also, because some of these technologies are a little bit outdated. Luckily, most of them are moving forward and developing great apps. For instance, Gallagher has a new cloud-based software that’s coming out that I’m really excited about, because that should make the barrier to entry of this whole world for people a lot easier, too. If you can use your cell phone, that’s a big thing. So, you definitely want to research the apps when you are looking at a wand reader.
Allysse Sorensen 22:14
But, if you’re the type of person that has a pocket reader, and you’re just going to reference the number, but you also want to record some information, some of my favorite apps are HerdBoss, which does just an excellent job of reports; it’ll give you an entire list of reports for when your goats are due, and you can sort it by almost any little parameter that you want to, which is just great. Another one that I really like is Livestocked. And so, those are on the phone, but also possibly cloud-based. And then there’s other software that might be on your computer or also have a web-based version, but it’s not necessarily something that you can use offline. So, one that a lot of people like is EasyKeeper. I would say just the disadvantage of that one is that you have to have the internet and your computer to make it work. The one thing that’s great about EasyKeeper is that they’ve really put a lot of thought into the type of goat that you’re raising. So, when you want to put in dairy goat information, it’s specialized to know what kind of goat information that you’re trying to keep. But it’s something to be mindful of. Is this something that I can take out into the field with me? Do I need it to? Or can I go home and write that information down?
Deborah Niemann 23:42
It sounds like there’s a lot of technology related to all of this. Is there anything else in terms of technology that you wanted to talk about?
Allysse Sorensen 23:50
I think… A couple things, just going back to why the wand reader is so helpful in collecting data for me, is that if I need to know something about the goats, like “How many times did I hoof trim this goat?” I can put in almost any question into that software, and it can tell me. So, if I have… I say I want to maybe let go of some goats that had bad FAMCHA scores the last couple of years. It’s very easy for me to put those parameters in and have it analyze that data. Or, if I need to know “What is my average daily gain right now?” I don’t have to bring that data into Excel and try and make graphs and charts by myself; my program already does that for me. So I save a lot of time being able to look up anything. Like, you can get as specific as “How many black goats do I own that are under six months of age that are female that have never been dewormed in their life?” You can really specify the most interesting questions that you have. And even if you have 30 goats, you may not really actually know the answer to that, you’d be like, “Well, I have Clyde and I have George… Well, I totally forgot about Wilson, or…” You know? So even for small producers, this can be really helpful.
Deborah Niemann 25:20
Okay, that’s really exciting. Is there any kind of common mistake that you’ve heard of that people who are new to this make? Anything people need to look out for?
Allysse Sorensen 25:30
As far as inserting the microchip: The microchip is not going to migrate. I really haven’t run into that in my experience, but it will fall out if it is not inserted correctly. So when you’re putting the microchip in, take the time to lift up the ear and make sure you didn’t accidentally go through the other side, and make sure that it’s really within that area that there’s a space for a microchip. It can’t be too surface level; if it’s right at the skin, it may push it out. So, you want to make sure that it’s correctly placed. And that, you know, that does take some trial and error and just some learning. But honestly, I think the number of microchips that have actually fallen out could be counted, you know, with my fingers. So it’s really not a high incidence, you’re just trying to try to be careful about it.
Deborah Niemann 26:27
Okay, this has been great! I think this is gonna be really helpful for people. Is there anything else that you can think of that people need to know before they get started?
Allysse Sorensen 26:37
I just think there’s a whole wide world of applications. Once your goats have a microchip or RFID, the possibilities are endless. For instance, the current technology is available where you can have a machine sort your goats. So say you need to wean goats. You can tell the machine which goat should go in which pen, and it’ll automatically sort the goats for you. It’ll collect their weights for you. It’s a great machine. I suppose you’d have to have quite a few goats to justify the cost, but how fun is it that this drafting machine exists? And then, future technologies could be maybe you have a creep gate that only lets in certain animals. You need certain animals to get more access to food than others; you can just set the gate to only allow those particular animals in. And so, once you have this technology, there’s just a lot of places you can go with it.
Deborah Niemann 27:36
Wow, that is incredible. This is so cool! Thank you so much for joining us today and talking about this. It has been very interesting.
Allysse Sorensen 27:46
Yeah, well, I love talking technology and goats. And so I have a little Facebook group dedicated just for this topic, and it’s Technology for Goats and Sheep on Facebook. And you can also check out HireGoats.com. If you scroll down to the bottom, there’s a section called “Producers,” and that section has a lot more information about the best recordkeeping apps, and we hope to put a lot more information out there on that.
Deborah Niemann 28:15
That’s awesome! I bet a lot of people are gonna look you up and probably have questions. So, thanks for giving us that information. And thanks again for being with us today.
Allysse Sorensen 28:25
Deborah Niemann 28:27
And, that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “Subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!
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