Effective December 31, 2019, the USDA will begin the move from metal identification tags to electronic radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in beef and dairy cattle, as well as in bison. As a result, effective January 1, 2023, any animals that are required to have official metal tag identification under current regulations will need individual RFID ear tags. That includes all animals moved across state lines and most dairy animals.
Better, faster traceability
One reason for the new regulation is to enhance animal health officials’ ability to locate specific animals quickly during a disease outbreak. Instead of taking weeks or months of sorting through paper records to determine which animals need to be tested, the process can be done in as little as a few hours with electronic identification, even when an animal may have been sold several times and mixed into other groups. RFID tags, in fact, are already used in a wide variety of industries to track animals and objects, which has led to their growing use in the supply chain as an alternative to bar codes. Consider, for example, the thousands of pets that carry a microchip that helps identify the owner in the event the pet gets lost.
“As we get further into a global economy, customers are demanding better traceability and accountability related to health and value,” says Nick Von Muenster, President of Scale-Tec. “RFID tags not only fill that need, but they have the potential to improve tracking performance on an individual basis.”
Evaluate animals on an individual basis
Von Muenster notes that, even though dairy producers can already track milk production per cow, most beef producers still evaluate and market animals as a group. Moreover, most producers don’t evaluate their profits until two weeks to a month after they sell their cattle. Through the use of a livestock scale, RFID tags and new software programs, that could all change.
“A lot of farmers know the total cost for feed, the average daily gain and the cost of animal health treatment, but they don’t compile it and analyze it until after the animals have gone to market,” Von Muenster continues. “A producer generally has a rolling number in his head as to where he thinks his break-even point and profit are in his herd. However, he really doesn’t see a final profit/loss figure until after the animals are taken to market.”
Weight data is a major indicator of performance. It also contributes to the broader picture of animal health and efficiency. Future-forward scale systems, like the Scale-Tec POINT indicator, aim to improve the model for cattle evaluation by making weight data accessible and usable. This helps producers maximize return on investment by taking out the guesswork and, in turn, addressing issues earlier.
The future is bright
“POINT already connects via Bluetooth to smartphones and tablets. But it can also connect to other devices, such as EID Tag readers, to allow animal identification to be read alongside the weight of the animal for record-keeping purposes,” Von Muenster says. “Now, picture a future where all the data is tied together and tracked through an RFID tag so each animal’s rate of gain and feed conversion, along with its health, can be tracked from start to finish.”
“Of course, as we move into the future and more and more companies develop even more-advanced RFID tags and new analytical software, I think we’ll see even more benefits for the livestock producer,” Von Muenster adds. “In the meantime, we’re able to create data points through our livestock scales that can be delivered to software platforms to better analyze animal performance—down to the individual animal through the RFID tag.”
Consequently, it’s important that producers start educating themselves about the different types and applications of RFID tags now, before they get locked into a system that may not be the best fit for their operation. In general, RFID tags are available in two different types, passive and active, as well as different frequencies. So it’s important to ask yourself questions, like “Do I need non-line-of-sight reading?” and “What are the expected read ranges?” Consider these explanations:
RFID tags can be grouped into three categories based on the range of frequencies they use to communicate data: low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF), which is the type we recommend most often in order to be best prepared for future applications. As a general rule, the lower the frequency of the RFID system, the shorter the read range and slower the data read rate. Hence, the frequency selection depends somewhat on the size of the operation and whether the tags are being read as animals pass through a chute or from a pickup out in the feed yard or pasture.
Active RFID tags have their own transmitter and power source (usually a battery) as a part of the tag. These are low-energy frequency solutions, and read ranges can extend up to 3,000 feet in some instances. Active RFID tags generally hold more information and also hold more potential for record keeping, but they are more expensive.
With passive RFID solutions, the tag reader sends a signal to the tag, which is used to power the tag and reflect energy back to the reader. Passive tags are usually smaller, less expensive and more flexible than active tags and are available as LF, HF and UHF systems. Read ranges are shorter than with active tags, and they are limited by the power of the radio signal reflected back to the reader.
Battery-Assisted Passive (BAP) RFID
A third, hybrid type of RFID tag has recently emerged, which incorporates a power source into a passive tag configuration. Referred to as BAP systems, or semi-passive RFID systems, they use the power source to help ensure that all the captured energy from the reader can be used to reflect the signal, which improves read distance and data transfer rate, without the cost of an active RFID.
Producers are faced with a number of RFID options, and it’s important to familiarize yourself with these options in order to make the best decision for your operation. Consider adding a future-ready scale as a piece of your overall RFID strategy, and take advantage of weight data. Ultimately, we recommend a UHF passive RFID tag solution.
“This tag solution will get producers the most bang for their buck, by opening the door to future applications with UHF,” Von Muenster concludes. “At the same time, opting for a passive instead of an active solution helps keep costs down as we move forward.”
Check out our livestock solutions page to read more about the benefits and types of scale systems we offer. Visit our products page or contact us to help you find the scale system that will best fit your operation’s needs.