Cattle sector discusses tag systems, technology

Keeping track of cattle when they are grazing in a community pasture or heading straight to slaughter is a continuing field of research for the government and the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency.

The research involves low and high technology.

“Tag retention is the single largest complaint that we get from producers and industry on a regular basis,” Paul Laronde, tag and technology manager for the CCIA, said at a traceability symposium held in Calgary Nov. 2-3.

“From the traceability perspective, you have lost all the historical information that animal gained.”

Long-term retention field trials continue, and producers are encouraged to inform the agency about problem tags.

Another issue deals with identifying dead animals that need to go to rendering or animals that are going straight to slaughter.

Farmers don’t want to put a $3 tag on a dead animal, so a low cost temporary identifier is being considered.

The solution is a wrap-around airline luggage tag that is water resistant and can include readable numbers, bar codes and a transponder so it can be scanned.

It could be wrapped around a tail or slapped on a hip.

Another application is dealing with untagged animals at feedlots. The feedlot does not want to run them through a restraining chute to tag again before sending to the slaughter plant.

Tests show these sticky tags last five to 10 days and cost about 90 cents each.

Producers have said they want long distance identification, especially when cattle are spread over remote or large geographical areas. Knowing where cattle are and where they have travelled is critical if a disaster or infectious disease occurs.

“When we are talking about infectious disease situations, that ability to figure out who they have been in contact with, who their contact was and where have they gone is quite challenging,” said veterinarian Leigh Rosengren of Rosengren Epidemiology Consulting Ltd.

Alberta Agriculture is testing methods to monitor movement, but the challenge is tracking animals in remote locations where there is no power grid, cellphone coverage or other infrastructure such as corrals or chutes to check animals.

One system that is being tested was adopted from Norway to track sheep, said Adrienne Herron, a traceability specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

It is a stand-alone facility with panel antenna, solar panel charger and a cellular tower.

It can be placed near water or salt licks, and cattle’s tags will be read when they pass by and trip the photo cell.

The system records the individual CCIA number, date, time and GPS position when the animal came by. The information is processed through the Google Earth locator and can be converted to premise identification.

Another more elaborate project has been tested in southwestern Alberta.

The project uses ultra high frequency tags and can track cattle at long distances.

It can find cattle that have strayed, help with inventory or track animals in the event of an emergency, said Bradley Smith of Alberta Agriculture.

A project at the North Fork Grazing Allotment north of the Coleman Mountain range tagged 1,300 animals with active RFID tags that send out a signal every minute to strategically placed towers.

The system is promising, but it is expensive technology.

Tags cost at least $45 and a reader is $1,500.

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