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Today’s innovative eartag technology

Gilda V. Bryant for Progressive Cattle Published on 23 October 2020
Yellow U.S. CattleTrace eartags

Ranchers have used eartags for several decades. Tags packed with innovative technology may provide locations of cattle or notify operators when animals are reaching estrus or becoming ill.

Combined with readers, this equipment gives producers more flexibility.

SenseHub, a new Allflex Livestock Intelligence product, measures a number of specific cow behaviors, including rumination and activity. These precise algorithms provide cutting-edge data for today’s producers. Clayton Mead, Great Plains regional manager for Allflex, says users follow rumination data shifts to learn when animal health changes before symptoms appear or when cows enter estrus. “We’re discovering potential issues earlier by monitoring rumination,” Mead reports.

Software enables producers to process animals quicker

This system utilizes eartags and a reader placed at a location animals visit daily, such as a feedbunk or water source. There is a quarter-mile span between tag and reader. As long as cattle enter the reader’s range at least once every 24 hours, the tag dumps information, which the reader stores. Producers access data from a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Benefits include improving animal health, production and increased heat detection, detecting short heats or heats producers may miss at night. “Benefits for the rancher include increased efficiency or production,” Mead reveals. “Many operators have a labor shortage or a second job. This system allows them to monitor their cows 24/7. These eartags allow producers to run cattle efficiently, whether it’s five head or 500.”

Designed for seedstock producers or operators with extensive operations, SenseHub is a real hit with cattle raisers who hold second jobs. An app notifies them when their animals’ health or estrus status changes. The producer manages time and efficiency by knowing what to expect when he arrives home. Producers may add antennas to increase the reader’s range. Since every operation is unique, support staff custom design the SenseHub setup for each operator.

“Have a goal in mind for how to improve your operation,” Mead advises. “A producer should know what to expect from this system, information that comes from us as we learn [about the operation]. Start small by tagging heifers or another group that needs attention. You can always expand the system if it’s the right fit for you.”

The low-frequency RFID tag

Operators have utilized radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for a decade. They come in several brands, including Datamars, Allflex and Destron Fearing. CattleMax software works with low-frequency (LF) RFID tags, increasing ranchers’ efficiency and reducing animals’ stress because they spend less time in the chute. Some RFID tags are USDA certified as official animal identification, allowing producers to move stock across state lines. A round button the size of a quarter, LF RFID tags have a reader range of 12 to 15 inches. Working best at the chute, this system is the most widely used, proven technology globally.

“We see most producers leveraging RFID tags from a management perspective,” explains Terrell Miller, founder of CattleMax software. “When working cattle, it’s much easier for the RFID reader to scan the tag then send information to a smartphone, weigh scale or reader that works with software, such as CattleMax. You can process animals quicker, reducing stress. It also gives operators unlimited flexibility, more efficiency and accuracy in data collection.”

Many ranchers scan the RFID tag, pulling up individual cows, calves or steers in software instantly. They spend less time manually keying in numbers or searching databases for a particular animal. This technology helps reduce human error when entering unlimited information, such as weight, types of vaccines and boosters, or how many calves a cow has had.

“This is an investment,” Miller concludes. “Tags run just over 2 dollars each, but they last for the animal’s life. A producer selling calves at weaning may find RFID tags aren’t the right management solution for short periods. For the breeding herd, adding replacement heifers, bulls or cows, the 2 dollar tag over the animal’s life pays for itself in the long run, [when you consider] the number of times animals go through the chute, saving a few seconds each time.”

Smartrac, an Avery Dennison company, develops and manufacturers RAIN RFID ultra-high-frequency (UHF) eartags, which have been available in the U.S. since 2018. This eartag is built tough to be reliable for the life of the animal. Rasmus Forntheil, product manager, says RAIN RFID technology allows a reader to scan multiple tags simultaneously, more quickly and at greater distances (15 feet) than typical LF tags. These standard-sized tags do not require batteries and are ready to apply with existing eartag pliers.

The Smartrac eartaf allows a ready to scan mulitple tags simutaneously

“The extended read range and read speed significantly reduce operator risk, increasing handling speed and data collection throughout the entire supply chain,” Forntheil reports. “Animals don’t need to be pushed through narrow corridors for counting or identification during auction or transportation processes.”

With appropriate UHF readers and high-performance middleware, ranchers may monitor changes in each animal’s activity.

“We are fully aware of the economic pressure beef producers are experiencing,” Forntheil concludes. “It is important for farmers to create health records of all individual animals in a simple and efficient way. A unique identifier like Smartrac eartag supports easy handling and reliable data collection. Information can be transferred quickly through the producer chain to any database, with potential access for end users who want to enjoy delicious and healthy beef.” end mark

PHOTO 1: Yellow U.S. CattleTrace ultra-high-frequency eartags work similarly to readable toll road stickers for vehicles. Photo courtesy of U.S. CattleTrace.

PHOTO 2: Software enables producers to process animals quicker, with more accuracy in data collection. Photo provided by Terrell Miller.

PHOTO 3: These eartags notify producers when cattle are ill or have reached estrus, as well as help improve accuracy and speed in data collection. Photo provided by Terrell Miller.

PHOTO 4: The Smartrac eartag allows a reader to scan multiple tags simultaneously, quickly and at distances up to 15 feet. Photo courtesy of the Avery Dennison Company.

Gilda V. Bryant is a freelancer based in Amarillo, Texas.

U.S. CATTLETRACE

Using ultra-high-frequency (UHF) eartags, experts at U.S. CattleTrace have developed a nonprofit, voluntary animal traceability program. Kyler Langvardt, program manager, reports these tags emit powerful, small wavelengths that work much like readable toll road stickers for vehicles.

U.S. CattleTrace experts selected UHF tags for speedy automated data transfer for disease traceability. “Because these tags are a relatively new technology for the cattle industry, some kinks need to be addressed, but the technology, high read rates and the non-disruption of current [ranching] practices is very promising,” Langvardt reports.

Callahan Grund, executive director of U.S. CattleTrace, reports that cattle with UHF tags transported from a cow-calf producer to feedyard or auction market have their tags read when they unload. These tags may also serve as official USDA identification.

“We have four minimum data points, typically at commingling: the tags’ identification numbers in the calves’ ears, date, time and location where the animal’s tag is read. We are pushing for infrastructure within auction markets, feedyards and packers across the U.S. where tags would be retired. We designed our system to be a tool for animal health officials to conduct contact tracing. We want to know where animals have been and which cattle they’ve been around. If a disease outbreak occurs, we hope to ‘cast a net,’ isolating [and treating] animals that have been exposed to a potential infection.”

This action could potentially keep unaffected markets open, securing beef supplies for American consumers and trade partners. Producers in 10 states – including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas – are enrolled in U.S. CattleTrace, and additional ranchers in other states plan to join soon. For more information, visit www.uscattletrace.org.

 

“With every emerging technology, it’s important to find what works best for your operation,” Langvardt advises. “When you begin using UHF tags, be sure to work closely with your tag manufacturer to achieve the read rates necessary to operate at the level you need.”

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