Ear tag ID research offers new possibilities

Every time someone clicks a button on a key fob to open the car door, radio frequencies are used.

“We all use RFID but maybe you don’t think of it,” said researcher Glen Kathler of SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.

Kathler, who recently retired as applied research chair at SAIT, continues to work on special projects.

SAIT was approached in 2011 by the beef industry to develop a better electronic identification tag.

Researchers developed and tested a series of RFID tags using ultra high frequencies, as well as wireless readers that could pick up signals in alley ways, around water troughs, in cattle liners and other locations. The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and federal government provided the research funds for the three-year project.

There were no UHF cattle tags available at the time so they built tags and readers that could send the information to a cloud-based server, he said at the International Livestock Identification Association conference held at Spruce Meadows near Calgary July 15-16.

Readers attached inside cattle liners could collect information on departures that filled the government’s desire to track animal movement. It seemed the biggest gaps were in animal departure, while arrivals were scanned at their destination, said Kathler.

The tests showed high frequency systems can read a number of animals almost simultaneously.

“There are not really any specific application or situations where you cannot read the tag,” he said.

SAIT was also approached by Delta Genomics to see if it could collect DNA samples and attach the information to UHF tags.

Another co-operative project aligned with Thompson Rivers University at Kamloops used thermal readers attached to drones to find cattle through heat signatures. The drone also had a reader to detect the animals’ identifications.

Work continues to determine uses and capabilities for long-range tracking and identification from up to 7.5 kilometres away.

“There are manufacturers building products like this,” said Kathler.

UHF tags for cattle have not been approved in Canada but research is underway to test the capabilities. However, some technology is expensive and not all projects were 100 percent successful.

Current tags use low-frequency waves, and research is also looking at making a better hand-held reader that can read all kinds of tags.

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