Mission accomplished: Tag reader designed for producers

CALGARY — As wish lists go, it was long.

Cow-calf producers love the idea of using their smartphone to read cattle tags but conditions in the field call for hardy equipment.

Canadian Cattlemen’s Association technical services director Mark Klassen was up to the challenge and after the CCA undertook a producer survey and developed a series of prototypes, he said a tag reader powered by smartphone will be available by the end of this year.

It wasn’t easy.

“The first challenge that we had was, producers wanted something that would fit into their Carhartt overalls but yet it needed to read the same range as a bigger reader,” Klassen told those at the recent Canadian Beef Industry Conference.

That related to antenna size. Problem solved. But that was only the beginning.

“Folks said it can be awful loud in the cow-calf environment at times and … we can’t rely on beeps. Let there be lights, they said, and we gave them lights.

“And then they said, well, sometimes when we have the reader turned a certain way, we can’t see the lights on that side. So we put the lights on both sides.

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“And then they said sometimes we’ve got the big gloves in winter, and they cover the lights. And so we then put on vibration feedback.

“And then they said, sometimes we’ve got really thick gloves and sometimes we’ve got thin gloves, so we need to adjust the vibration.

“And then they said sometimes we might leave that device in the pasture, or drop it, and we need to be able to see it and find it again. And so we made it a very distinctive colour, orange.

“And then they said if we did drop it, what happens if it was in the water? And so we made it water resistant. We have no buttons to speak of and we’ve used aircraft sourced connections for your power port.

“And then they said, well jeez, it would be nice if it wasn’t going to drop at all. We need a place to connect our break-away lanyard. And so we put one of those on.

“And then they said, well, sometimes we’d like to have it on our wrist and sometimes we’d like to have it on our neck, so we need one on the top and the bottom. And so we did that.

“And then of course software has to be as good as the reader, so we got feedback on that.”

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Klassen said the phone interface is sometimes too small, so a desktop version was developed for both PC and Mac. If there is no cellular signal for the phone, as is possible in far-flung pastures, the data is stored locally on the phone.

“But then if your phone got dropped and your horse stepped on it, you would potentially be out all your work, so we also stored it in the cloud. That way when your phone gets lost, your data doesn’t.

“And it also enables us, if you’ve got a member of the family or an employee that has a phone and you enter something on the phone, it automatically goes to their phone, so everybody is in sync.”

Price for the readers will be set by the company who makes them, said Klassen, warning that there is always a tradeoff between features and price. Companies capable of making the units have been told what the CCA thinks the market will bear, but he did not cite a number other than to say “we really have tried to keep the price down.”

The plan is to commercialize the units at the end of the year and have an application for iPhones available in early 2018.

The effort that went into development of the readers prompted former CCA president Travis Toews to jokingly remark on producers’ many requirements.

“I was amazed at where that reader has gone. It’s confirmed my suspicions that most cow-calf producers are largely deaf and partially blind.”

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