Consider It A 'Chip' Off The New Block

Beginning on January 1, 2019, Standardbred Canada will move away from identifying horses by freeze branding and/or tattooing, and will implement a system of microchipping the horses instead. The new process brings with it several benefits for both the horses and horsepeople alike.

By Chris Lomon

In March of this year, Standardbred Canada (SC) made the announcement that the SC Board of Directors had approved the transition toward microchip horse identification that's set to begin on January 1, 2019.

Other high-profile Canadian equine organizations, along with the international standardbred industry, have already moved or are moving to this system of identification instead of freeze branding and/or tattooing.

There are several benefits for both horses and horsepeople.

Microchipping identification enables for improved tracking of animal disease for the welfare of the horse, easy identification for importing and exporting overseas and maximum verification recovery in the event of the animal being lost or going across a border. It will also minimize the need to re-freeze brand a horse in the case of an illegible freeze brand.

The current method of identification has SC technicians simultaneously collecting a DNA sample, noting colour and markings, and then applying the freeze brand.

When the calendar flips to 2019, SC technicians will continue to collect DNA samples, note colour and markings and record the microchip number directly in the SC database at the time of implantation of the chip.

The microchip selected by the SC Board of Directors is the Home Again TempScan by Merck Animal Health, a leading animal health company that focuses on research and development, production and marketing.

As well as enabling quick, safe and accurate identification, the microchip measures the equine body temperature with an accuracy of 0.5 Fahrenheit or 0.1 degree Celsius from the traditional way of taking temperatures.

Louis Blais, Director, Companion Animal Business Unit at Merck Animal Health, sees many advantages with microchipping.

"The technology included in some chips can now give the possibility to read a horse body temperature," he said. "That information can then be read with a portable scanner. This can help quickly identify horses in the early stage of infectious disease, at the time when they shed high levels of viral particles, and are highly contagious without necessarily showing signs of the disease yet. This is particularly relevant with equine herpes virus. In such an outbreak, body temperature is typically taken twice a day in healthy horses of the affected barn in order to detect new cases as early as possible so that they can then be quickly isolated in an attempt to contain the outbreak. The microchip allows one to monitor the body temperature more efficiently, and in a safe manner.

"Also, through a specialized software, a microchip number could be linked to software which could then display a horse's medical record, vaccination history, competition record, eligibility data for a given competition or race, etc."

Linda Bedard, Registrar and Manager of Member Services with SC, believes the streamlined microchipping process will resonate with horsepeople.

"The technicians will scan the nose and the neck first because some breeds, they actually microchip in the nose," she said. "So our technician will have to scan to see that there is no microchip. We have an application in our database that our technicians will have with them. They'll open that up and once they scan the microchip that they will put in the horse, that microchip number will appear on the computer. They will be able to save that directly into our system."

For Bedard, one of the most important aspects of microchipping is found in the actual procedure itself.

"The microchip will be implanted in the horse's neck on the upper left side, in the nuchal ligament, just below the mane," she started. "They'll clip the area, an inch or two inch square, they'll swab it with alcohol and then take the needle - the microchip is like a syringe and they're all individualized - and then they'll apply it to the horse. That's pretty much it. The technician will then do what we are currently doing now with the freeze brand, which is to make a report after the procedure is done.

"My technicians always ask me the same thing about the biggest benefit. I don't know if I have just one answer, but I believe it comes down to the horse. All the other associations are going with the microchip. It's a more innovative way to track our horses. But most importantly, it's not traumatic on the horse. For the foal, it's going to be a lot easier on them." It will also take the process from an antiquated approach to a modern method of horse identification.

"The technicians will open up the application, put the name of the dam of the horse and save that microchip number directly into our system," noted Bedard. "It will be more advanced compared to the way things are currently. We're really old school with the way we are doing things now."

That will soon change.

Breeders and members of SC will be able to buy scanners - there are two available to select from - directly from SC at a discounted price.

The Universal HomeScan Reader is the size of a cell phone and will read and display the microchip number and temperature of the equine, and requires 2 AA batteries. This scanner will be available for purchase by SC members for $80, plus shipping and applicable taxes, and $95 for non-members, plus shipping and applicable taxes.

The Universal WorldScan Reader Plus offers faster microchip detection, USB or wireless Bluetooth connectivity. It's designed for increased durability and protection against moisture, longer battery life, sleek contoured design and comes with a protective storage case. It reads the microchip number and temperature on its display and the USB and Bluetooth interfaces allow for easy electronic transfer of microchip ID codes to your phone or any computer.

The Reader Plus is priced at $375 for SC members, plus shipping and applicable taxes, or $450 for non-members plus shipping and applicable taxes.

Universal scanners can also be purchased through other channels, but only the HomeAgain scanners will display the temperature of the horse.

The price of identification will remain included in the foal registration fee. If members are interested in having horses microchipped that have previously been freeze branded, the cost is $45 per horse (1 to 4 horses), $35 per horse (5 to 9 horses) or $30 per horse (10 or more). Additional mileage fees may be incurred depending on the location.

"In addition to providing a unique identification number for managing these horses, we are also able to take a temperature reading during that same stand, which allows a host of applications that SC will be able to use," noted John Corgan, Associate Director, HomeAgain Product Innovation Lead at Merck. "In terms of ease of performing the procedure, a microchip is a simpler procedure than the freeze branding - that's on the identification side. On the temperature side, this is absolutely a less invasive way of taking a temperature.

"Getting into microchipping horses within these organizations (USTA announced it partnered with Merck in April), including Standardbred Canada, is a bit of a new adventure for us. It's opening a whole new world of possibility and we have some really exciting plans down the road in this area."

What does Blais see as some of the most notable aspects of microchipping?

"Simplicity and convenience," he said. "Identifying a horse using a microchip is a quick and simple procedure. It is also unalterable making it a more reliable means of identification. Thereafter, it's very easy and fast to confirm the horse identity."

Joanne Colville, chair of SC, who also breeds and owns horses, and is an outrider at several Ontario racetracks, believes the new microchipping identification will be beneficial for everyone involved in the industry.

"It's easy and it's efficient," she said. "It's been a long time coming, but I think it's absolutely great."

Microchipping Frequently Asked Questions

Q. When will it be mandatory to have foals microchipped to complete the foal registration?

A. Starting January 1, 2019, freeze branding will no longer be done, all horses needing identification for registration will be microchipped.

Q. I have an older horse who has already been freeze branded, will I have to have him microchipped?

A. If your horse has already been identified, you will not be required to have your horse microchipped, unless the freeze brand is illegible and the horse requires a new identification, this will be done at no cost. If you decide to have your horse microchipped, you will be able to do so for a small fee.

Q. Who can implant microchips?

A. SC identification technicians are fully trained to implant microchips. SC technicians will collect a hair sample for DNA testing, complete the white markings and colour report, and record the microchip number into the SC database at the same time of microchipping. Members can also have their veterinarian implant the microchip supplied by SC. Once the microchip has been implanted by the veterinarian, the SC technician will then pull hair for DNA testing, scan the microchip to record the number in the SC database and complete the marking report.

Q. Once my foals are microchipped and turned out, how do I identify them without a visible freeze brand or tattoo number?

A. You can scan the horse's neck to find out the microchip number or, if you don't have a scanner, the HomeAgain microchips come with a card and a tag with the microchip number on it. You can write the name of your foal on the card and attach the tag to its halter for easy identification.

Q. Why implanting in the neck location and not the nasal location (upper lip)?

A. The nuchal (neck) location is the practice used internationally in the standardbred industry including the location chosen by the USTA, it is important to be consistent within the industry.

Q. Will the implantation cause pain to my foal?

A. The welfare of the animal is important to SC, the implantation procedure is quick, easy and non-traumatic for the animal. The implant area will be clipped and cleaned and it only take a couple of seconds to insert the needle and the microchip is inserted.

Q. I have heard stories about the microchip migrating after a period of time, should this be a concern?

A. There is no migration concerns as long as the microchip has been properly implanted into the nuchal ligament. Glass-enclosed microchips were prone to movement but the HomeAgain TempScan microchip is encased in an insert micro-capsule made of bio-compatible material. The Bio-Bond enables the animal's tissue to permanently anchor the microchip at the desired anatomical site.

Q. Where can I purchase a scanner?

A. Universal HomeAgain Scanners can be purchased through SC at a discounted price for SC members by contacting the head office. Universal scanners can also be purchased through other channels on the internet but may not display the horse's temperature.

For more information on Microchipping guidelines, policy and regulation, please visit SC's Microchip resource page.