High-frequency tags: Easier data reading, happier cattle

Next generation of RFID readers can read cattle tags without having to use a squeeze chute

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Using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track and collect information on cattle is fast becoming standard practice.

However, the process can be painfully slow and inefficient. But researchers may have found a way to change that.

A three-year project conducted by SAIT’s Glen Kathler tested the ability of ultra-high-frequency RFID tag readers to process data from several cattle at a time as they’re walked through an archway. That’s an improvement on the current practice of putting cattle through a squeeze chute one by one and reading their data using low-frequency RFID technology.

“Our mandate from (project funders) Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency at the time was to be able to read up to seven animals through a 16-foot alley at 20 miles per hour. We proved that,” said Kathler.

While the efficiency of the UHF-RFID/archway prototype reveal some obvious benefits for producers, auction marts, transporters, and packing plants, there is also a strong animal welfare component.

“The biggest benefit — and the reason for researching it in the first place — was the fact that you can now sort animals and obtain their data with limited stress on the animal,” said Kathler.

“If you look at any of the research on animal handling in a squeeze chute, you’re going to lose between one and 1-1/2 per cent of their body weight every time they get squeezed.

“But when you move them through a wide alley for sorting between pens and a feedlot, you know exactly what animals you’re loading without that individual squeeze activity.”

Although all of the components needed to set up a similar system are commercially available, it may be a while before operations can create their own archway.

This is mainly due to the low supply — and therefore high expense — of UHF-RFID tags currently on the market.

“No one is actually selling a package that looks like (our prototype) and the reason for that is UHF tags are just kind of trickling into the industry, mostly in countries other than Canada,” said Kathler.

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