Producers find cattle with Google maps

Cattle that go missing after a summer in remote pastures may become a thing of the past if ongoing research continues to produce good results.

Cattle equipped with high frequency ear tags can potentially be tracked to within metres of their location, and their movements can be monitored in real time.

Brad Smith, a livestock technology specialist with Alberta Agriculture in Cardston, has already been tracing animals and posting their movement on Google maps for their owners using a system of triangulation from strategically placed towers.

This year, pending project funding approval, he plans to equip more cattle with active 900 megahertz tags, which will be attached to the back of dangle ear tags.

He hopes to try the technology on cattle in southern Alberta pastures that are heavily treed and have rugged terrain.

“It’s quite an experience to go on a map and actually see where your cattle are,” said Smith.

He has been working on the project for four years, when he completed a project at the Pole Haven community pasture near Waterton, Alta., in which cattle with the regular radio frequency identification tags could be read from half a mile away with a hand-held directional reader.

Smith said emerging technologies could improve on that.

He began Google mapping animals using funding from SAIT Polytechnic, the federal Growing Forward program, Alberta Environment and the Waterton Biosphere Reserve.

Improved radio communications and tag design have helped improve reliability.

“This next year, our focus will be on improving accuracy of locating animals through enhancements with the tags and towers and developing a direction hand-held reader for searching animals in remote areas,” Smith said in an email.

“We are receiving lots of interest in this project from grazing associations, ranches and foreign entities. Our target is to have this technology commercialized within a year.”

He and his team are developing a hand-held tag reader that they hope will have an eight to 10 kilometre range.

“It’s pretty exciting, the technology that they’re utilizing,” he said of Tagsmyth, the Utah-based company with which he is working.

“It’s some of the technology that they are using for their applications in the military.”

Smith hopes improved accuracy in tag reading will also allow livestock owners to identify predation and cattle health problems from a distance.

“Another thing that is huge is the infrastructure cost for active tags, and it doesn’t matter what kind of active tag it is, is so much less than passive tags. Passive tags are what we’re mandated to use now.”

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