A Day in the Life of an MDARD Animal Industry Inspector

Office of Performance and Transformation's Communication Representative Monica Drake will be following different State of Michigan employees throughout the year.

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Senior Inspector Jeffrey Schaner joked that, the reason he has always wanted to work with animals is because "they're easier than people."

In all seriousness, he said, "I've come to enjoy working with farmers to come up with solutions to meet the state's regulation standards and increase safety."

"Some farmers think the​​​​ government is inhibiting their business. What they don't realize is, if a disease breaks out on their farm, it not only puts their neighbors and their consumers at risk, but potentially the entire industry in Michigan."

Schaner's job is to make sure this doesn't happen. One of his priorities is to prevent the spread of diseases in livestock, like bovine tuberculosis (TB) – a zoonotic disease, or one that humans can get from animals.

Cattle from "the TB Zone" are tested for the disease, and their results are inputted into a web based system called USAHerds. The inspectors keep track of the cattle – their test history and their movement – by electronic tags applied to their ears. Michigan is the only state in the country that requires all cattle to have these radio frequency identification devices (RFID).

"It's like the social security number for that cow. We can tell the animals apart b​y using it," Schaner said. "Based on the animal's test history in USAHerds, we can tell if it's eligible to move."

Schaner travels to livestock auctions across the state to "make sure our RFID scanning equipment is working properly.  When we have cattle moving on permits, I will scan the cattle to make sure the correct ones were transported, process the permits to move them from the farm inventory to the market inventory, and find out who bought these animals to permit them to the new farm."

"We do this for animal traceability and to protect the food we eat. … TB is a slow-moving disease, so, if a farm comes up TB positive in the future, we go back five years and trace down every animal that left that farm," he said. "The RFIDs allow us to track them quickly and efficiently. In a disease investigation, time is important."

There are also scanning panels in most of livestock markets and in slaughterhouses in Michigan and surrounding states. When a cow is scanned at a slaughter facility, the location of the animal is automatically changed to the slaughter facility inventory in the USAHerds system.

"If a cow is dead, then it's not exposing any other animals to disease, and we can spend our time focusing on finding the animals that are still alive and the highest risk," said Schaner.

There are about 25 MDARD field staff who cover various types of inspections for the entire state of Michigan. Schaner calls his state vehicle his "mobile office" because, most days, that's where he works.Inside of the truck, he has everything he needs – including a battery-operated printer. 

"I've driven up to Antrim and Emmet counties in the middle of winter. Those were 16 or 17-hour days. I would pack in visits all day to make sure the Wildlife Risk Mitigation plans farmers had in place to keep their cattle protected from wildlife exposure to TB were working," he said. "If their verified plan was working, then we don't have to TB test the cattle as often, allowing us to spend our time focusing in other areas."

TB has been one of the main focuses of Schaner's job at MDARD since 2000, when he was first hired after graduating from Michigan State University with his bachelor's degree in Environmental Biology.

Schaner grew up on a farm in Oceana County, so supporting and protecting locally grown produce and locally raised meat has always been important to him. 

"I will spend more money at the grocery store buying Michigan-made products because I know where it came from," he said. "I take pride in helping the agriculture industry here."