July 17, 2004
Moriarty Woman's Software Speeds Tracing of Cattle Brands
By Richard Benke
The Associated Press
A former New Mexico state brands supervisor has developed software that instantly matches hot-iron brands with cattle owners and ranch locations.
The software, expected to be commercially available this fall, comes at a time when the government is seeking faster, more detailed information about livestock, particularly during disease outbreaks.
The Nickel Brand Software allows a user to find the owner of a brand by sketching the brand on the screen of a computer palm pad with an electronic stylus or by scanning the brand with a hand scanner.
Loretta A. Martinez, founder of Moriarty-based Nickel Brand Software, said matching brands with ranches can be tricky business. Consider that in New Mexico alone there are about 28,900 brands representing thousands of working ranches, each of which may use several brands.
Martinez says she's not proposing to change the traditional hot-iron branding of cattle, just the recording of brands and the accessing of brands when that information is needed.
"The hot-iron brand goes on the cow as usual," she said. "Let's take what we have had as information for centuries . . . and build upon that."
Many ranchers already use computers for ranch business or for keeping in touch with neighbors, and some ranches already put satellite tracking chips in their cattle or in their livestock's ear tags.
"I think we have some fairly advanced ranching operations out there, but we don't want to leave out the rancher who doesn't want to migrate in that direction," she said.
New Mexico ranks No. 6 for the number of brands, after Texas, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, she said.
The database takes on greater importance now as federal livestock identification regulations are about to take effect in the next few years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is "looking at implementing a process where, in the event of an outbreak of disease, they can instantly trace where that animal has been and what that animal has been in contact with," said Bill Sauble, a Maxwell rancher who is one of nine members of the state Livestock Board.
The USDA is looking for a way to track animals within 48 hours, Sauble said.
Some ranchers are concerned that their longtime successful branding methods might be tampered with, Sauble said.
"They don't want to have to reinvent the wheel," he said. "That's where Loretta's process can probably help immediately.
"It would greatly benefit those states that have brand laws. Those states are very concerned about scrapping a system that worked for 100 years. They're very anxious to take whatever they've got and adapt it to a national identification system," Sauble said. "Loretta's technology holds a lot of promise for bridging that gap."
He explained that in New Mexico a brand is considered proof of ownership.
"Where a national identification system is headed is not necessarily proof of ownership," he said. "Loretta's system I see as helping bridge the two."
Martinez had help from Albuquerque-based Sandia National Laboratories in developing her software and method of livestock identification. Nickel Brand Software was one of 296 New Mexico businesses aided by Sandia's small business assistance program, lab officials said.
"The idea came to me in 1998, when I asked the question: 'Why are we still hand-drawing these (brand) books?' " Martinez said. It took her four months to draw the 1997 brand book, totaling 28,806 brands. Once she computerized it, she said, "it took four hours."