Animal analytics gets a dose of RFID

Canadian farmers can reap some benefit from mandatory cattle identification by integrating those same animal identifiers with their own farming operations.

For reasons of food safety, farmers are obliged to tag animals so that when they leave the farm or are sent to slaughter, their origin can be traced. But besides meeting compliance regulations, farmers currently don’t benefit from the process and cost of tagging cattle, said Anne Olscher, president of Indian River, Ont.-based Animal ID Solutions Inc., a technology systems integrator focusing on the agriculture industry.

“It tends to be driven top-down… and for the farmer it’s just a straight overhead and an additional cost,” said Olscher, adding that the cost of tagging an animal can range from three to six dollars.

Animal ID Solutions teamed with Mississauga, Ont.-based retail technology vendor NCR Corp. to produce TransitionWorks for Animal Traceability, a database designed to track data, like pedigree, age, and milk output, about a particular animal using those mandatory tagging methods like Radio Frequency ID (RFID), implants and sensors.

“You could look at how much food [the animal is] eating, how much water it’s drinking and most importantly, how much milk it’s producing,” said Olscher.

Farms that use programmable logic controllers (PLCs) on milking and feeding stations can route data from those devices to the TransitionWorks database, which can then tie the identity of the milking or feeding animal into the collected data, explained Linda Remington, senior consultant with NCR’s AIDC Solutions Group.

In fact, the technology can even be used to send alerts – in the form of lights or a horn, to a mobile or other receiving device – when milk production at a particular station is running low, said Remington, adding that the TransitionWorks platform is intentionally malleable to accommodate tagging mechanisms ranging from rudimentary numbered necklaces to RFID chips.

“At the end of the day, more data helps them become more efficient,” she said.

NCR provides the technology infrastructure, including hosted servers unless the customer chooses to house the application onsite, said Remington.

Failure to realize mandatory tagging can be leveraged to make a farm’s operations more efficient is a hindrance to adoption of the technology, said Remington.

Further compounding the issue, she added, is the perception that tracing technology is more suited to the realm of warehousing and retail distribution. “What we’ve been doing in warehouses and manufacturing can have a lot of applicability in some of these large farming operations.”

But Olscher said the use of sensors in farming is becoming more prevalent given how large farming operations are nowadays. “When you look at farming today, it’s not what it was 30 years ago.”

Promoting different uses of mandatory tagging is similar to what happened when retailer Walmart asked manufacturers to tag merchandise, she said. “Some of [the manufacturers] just slapped and shipped the stuff just to get it out the door and meet the requirements. And others said, ‘how do I leverage that in my operation?'”

In addition to farming operations, TransitionWorks is also targeted at animal breed associations and registries, where the technology can be tied into services offered to members.

The long-term advantage to data collection, said Remington, is it accumulates over time, allowing for trend analysis of different animal breeds within the farm. But the industry as a whole can benefit by sharing that data between associations and farms – a particularly valuable capability considering it’s an industry that tends to engage in information sharing, she said.

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