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Horse ID System Presents Unique Challenges

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Certification of a horse’s recent medical history is just the first step in building a complete tracking system for all equines, including pleasure horses, those involved in sports and those purpose-bred for meat. Such a system will have advantages in sports, retrieval of lost and stolen horses and the meat industry.

The equine identification document the CFIA currently proposes requires a detailed physical description and diagram of each horse to be signed by a vet or authorized specialist, or accompanied by other identification such as a passport or registration papers.

Horse specialist Les Burwash has been working on development of a better equine ID system. The challenges are different from those of the beef system. Whatever identification system is developed has to meet standards like those for cattle as well as the demands of owners for a system that does not mar the esthetics of the horse. Systems that work for pleasure horses may not work in purpose-bred meat horses.

An RFID chip can be injected under the skin, but a horse doesn’t have much loose skin, the ideal location for a chip. Burwash has had an unacceptable number of infections at injection sites that are convenient for all sectors of the horse industry.

Another problem with injectable RFID chips is that the reader must be within inches of the chip, not useful for unbroken horses. If the animal is slaughtered for meat, it can take a long time to ensure that the chip has been cut out.

Burwash is investigating the potential of a tattoo ink that can be read with an RFID reader from as much as four feet away.

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