Harness Breeders Victoria has recently discussed the merits of introducing microchips in place of alpha-angle freeze branding as the primary method of identifying standardbreds. Alpha-angle freeze branding is, in the view of HBV, still the most cost-effective, tamper resistant and reliable method available for identifying horses.
Under Victoria’s Domestic Animals Act 1994, only registered veterinary practitioners are permitted to implant a microchip in a horse. Mandatory microchipping would add a burden of $300,000 to $350,000 per annum on Victorian breeders associated with veterinary fees.
If microchipping replaced freeze branding, industry participants would need to purchase a reader costing between $200 and $500 to read chips implanted into the horses they received.
Microchips can break when injected, or be expelled soon after insertion. They can be surgically removed, and horses can be inadvertently ‘chipped’ more than once. Microchip numbers can also be duplicated.
The thoroughbred industry introduced microchipping a decade ago because of the limitations of its traditional branding and registration arrangements. The harness racing industry has no similar driver.
The elimination of freeze branding is unlikely to enhance opportunities for Standardbreds in their life after racing and the hurdles faced in this part of the industry will be best addressed through education and structure as provided by the new HRV HERO program.
DNA analysis and the recording of colour, sex and markings are used by the harness racing industry to complement freeze branding. HBV's view is that this package provides an affordable, robust and reliable approach for identifying pacers and trotters.