Traceability poised for next step: Auto tracking of cattle

The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) is tapping 
into new technology to make traceability fast and easy

Automated tracking of cattle may soon be a reality.

During the coming year, the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) will be experimenting throughout the province with data loggers installed at farms, feedlots, and auction markets to track cattle as they move through the value chain.

“Movement is very difficult to track, especially when animals are commingling at a feedlot, an auction market, or on farm,” said Gordon Cove, CEO of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, which is helping to fund the project.

“If this project is successful, whenever the animal goes somewhere the data logger will be triggered, the information will go into a network, and we will see there has been animal movement. It’s pretty exciting.”

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The data-logging project is just one component of a larger CCIA initiative intended to prepare the beef industry for the possibility of future federal legislation that may require all industry players — including ranches that sell locally and producers importing cattle — to report animal movement from one premises to another.

“We’re looking at ways to reduce the administrative burden for industry and producers with respect to animal movement data,” said Paul Laronde, tag and technology manager for CCIA and the project’s designer. “Our goal is to make the reporting process easier for producers and other industry players by using technology to increase data privacy, improve data integrity, and reduce errors.”

“This is a key part of a larger, more complex traceability pro-ject underway at CCIA,” added Leigh Rosengren, a veterinarian and consultant who is the pro-ject’s lead epidemiologist.

“We will be presenting an update on this research at Traceability Symposium 2016 in Calgary this November.”

Not user friendly

Currently, the cattle traceability process requires several steps before traceability info reaches the Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS) database, said Laronde.

“Right now, if a member of the value chain wants to report a sighted event, the individual needs to record and report the animal’s unique radio frequency identification (RFID) and the unique premises ID for the source premises with a specific date. Those three points connect and give us a sighted data event,” he said.

“A sighted event records the sighting of an animal at a certain location. With enough sighted event records, we are hoping to synthesize animal movement data that will meet proposed reporting requirements, increase data integrity, and reduce industry’s administrative burden.”

Currently, RFID readings are downloaded to a computer, imported into a spreadsheet that the CLTS database can understand, and then uploaded — a process that is complex and often very time consuming, said Laronde.

“Data processing time ranges from a few minutes to six hours, depending on the number of submitted events in the CLTS database queue,” he said. “If there are any errors to the submitted data, it must be resubmitted.

“Technologically, it’s a bit of a challenge if you’re not computer savvy or if you don’t have a family member or friend to help. We’re trying to make the reporting process quicker and easier to use.”

Goal is complete automation

The hope is the new data loggers will eliminate those headaches. The data loggers — electronic devices about the size of a deck of cards — are already being used in the petroleum industry to autonomously monitor product conditions in remote areas.

The data loggers can not only send information directly to the CCIA via a cell signal but also “sorts out any garbage data and redundancy,” said Laronde.

“For example, if a cow happens to stand in front of the reader for a little longer than required and you get 10 reads instead of one, the technology will sort it down to one,” he said. “If we’re successful with this pilot project, all users should have to do is switch on the reader and technology should be able to take care of the rest of the automated data collection process.

“We are proposing to pull reportable data from commingling sites rather than have industry push it to CCIA.”

The new system should also be more secure.

“There are no third parties handling the data — it goes from the RFID readers to the CLTS database,” said Laronde. “So privacy is increased; timeliness of data reporting is increased; and the workload for the producer is hopefully reduced if, in fact, we can make this work the way we think we can.”

The CCIA has contracted a Calgary-based company to develop a data logger specific to its needs and the installation process should begin this fall, he said.

But there is one big challenge — lousy cell service in many rural parts of the province.

“There are areas in Alberta where cellphone coverage is spotty so we’re working with more than one telecom provider to see who gives us the best coverage,” said Laronde. “We’re also experimenting with various-size antennas.

“That’s another piece of the project we’re trying to figure out: Is it going to work everywhere in Alberta or just within 50 miles of Calgary?”

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