UHF cattle tag research moves forward

Researchers at SAIT Polytechnique are field testing new ultra high frequency radio cattle tags.

The research will probably mean reading cattle tags one at a time will be a thing of the past in the not too distant future.

Glen Kathler, from SAIT’s Applied Research and Development Services department, says they had a goal of being able to read a tag at 32 kilometres per hour, seven animals a breast in a five metre wide alley and the testing so far has gone well.

“We’ve been on our UHF RFID project now for coming up on a year and a half and we’ve been pretty excited over the past 6 months we’ve got about 1,150 tags out in the field in four separate locations,” Kathler tells Rural Roots Canada.  “Starting in the next month we’ll be going back to what we call our ‘retention event’ where the tags are in and we’ve seen their functionality and now we want to see how they last and doe they survive in our local environment.

“In the feedlot environment we’ve been doing the squeeze shoot application which what they typically do in that environment and the one that has garnered the most attention what we call our wide alley read.  In one example we had 310 animals tagged we ran them through 16 foot wide alley at the speed of commerce as they ran them back from a temporary holding pen back to their home pen  and we got a 309 out of 310 read.  So 99.7 per cent accuracy if you want to do the fine math. “

Kathler says the technology isn’t event available yet and they have ranches and feedlots asking when they can get their hands on the technology.

“Very significant amount of interest, I mean they already have technology they can use in a squeeze shoot, so to see something that works in a totally new environment and a very affordable application has garnered a very high level of interest from all levels of industry.”

Once all the testing is done, all of the stats will be compiled into a report so the industry can compare the stats with the current RFID technology.

“Certainly some of the higher frequencies that we are using with the high technologies do have a distinct advantage you could compare it to your AM radio to your FM radio. FM radio has a little more quality right, a little more bandwidth and you can do more with it.  So going from a low frequency technology tag to a UHF technology tag works a little bit faster, quicker read rates, higher read speeds, the tags have memory so you can actually write information in the tags that we put in the field.”  “We time stamp the date we tag it, we stamp what type of animal is it, is it a male? Is it a female? Is it a heifer?  Is it a steer?  Where did we actually do this?  What are the GPS coordinates that we tagged it at? All of that is recorded right on to the cow’s ear. “

A total of 1,150 cattle have been tagged to date, including 336 at CL Ranches near Cochrane.

“I can’t wait for the development of a new and improved information platform that not only guarantees transparency as to how an animal was raised, but also becomes a practical management tool for producers through the production stages,” says Cherie Copithorne-Barnes, CEO of CL Ranches.

Approximately 450 more animals will be tagged in the coming weeks as field testing continues.

“We basically designed our original dangle ear tags to work with off the shelf tag applicators so a farmer, a rancher, a feedlot owner, whoever is putting a tag in can put in his favourite male button and his favourite applicator so they don’t have to buy a special applicator to install these tags. “

The project is collaboration between SAIT, cattle ranchers and feedlot operators, Livestock Identification Services, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA).