Eartag project taps smartphone technology

OTTAWA — Imagine walking through a pen of cattle and using a smartphone to read ear tags and record important information on the spot.


That’s the goal of a new research project.


It hopes to build a special case that attaches to an Android or iPhone and turns it into an ear tag reader. 


A prototype could be ready for testing next year, Mark Klassen of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association told the CCA’s March 4-7 annual meeting in Ottawa. 


“If we could get the smartphone approach to work, this might be one of those things that really accelerates the pace of change just because we are building on such a great platform,” he said in an interview. 


If the early prototype works as ex-pected, the next step will be to develop similar hardware for a tablet. 


Money from the beef checkoff and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency is funding the project. 


Klassen said it makes sense to piggyback with a smartphone because it already has a camera, a GPS device and plenty of data storage space. 


The CCA wants producer input. 


“Nobody knows better what they need to do than the people who are doing it,” Klassen said. 


Research is also ongoing into ear tag retention, which has found that tags stay in if they are inserted correctly with the right applicator. 


A five-year study, which ends in March 2015, involves 5,000 yearlings, mature cows and bulls from British Columbia to Ontario. 


The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency offers six tags, all of which are included in the test. 


“Some of these tags make up a larger share of the marketplace, but each one had to go through the same testing protocol,” said CCIA chair Pat Burrage. 


He said retention in young animals has been nearly perfect when a trained individual inserts them according to manufacturer’s instructions with the right applicator. 


The top reasons for tag loss have been identified as improper application, infections caused by poor hygiene and being caught in twine, wire fences or brush.


The CCIA has an online complaint form that allows producers to report tag problems to manufacturers.