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GEA CowView Locates Cattle Via Active RFID

The solution uses Zebra's ultra-wideband tags and readers to track the location and behavior of dairy cows, to enable farmers to better manage their herds.
By Claire Swedberg
May 10, 2013

Because the dairy industry is under pressure to increase its productivity and efficiency, German company GEA Farm Technologies has developed a radio frequency identification solution, known as CowView, to help farms manage their herds as if they knew each cow individually. Keld Florczak, GEA's head of business development for cow health and farm management, described the solution at a May 1 breakout session at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 conference and exhibition, held last month in Orlando, Fla.

The consolidation of farms is resulting in larger herd sizes and dairy farms, Florczak explained, which can often result in increased labor or longer working hours. Growing human populations require greater output from dairy farmers. Due to the large herd sizes, farmers often have difficulty identifying each individual cow and tracking its health record. What's more, farmers are under pressure to keep product cost low, thereby leaving a slim profit margin.

A cow wears Zebra's Dart active RFID tag in a necklace that includes a counterweight, so that the tag is positioned above the animal's neck.

With these challenges in mind, GEA Farm Technologies—which manufactures technical innovations, integrated product solutions and animal-hygiene products for cost-efficient milk production—decided to develop a technology-based solution that would allow farms to reduce the amount of labor that would otherwise be required to monitor each cow and ensure her health. Instead, the company wanted to provide a system that would monitor animal behavior, in order to detect when a cow was in heat, moving around or lying down, as well as alert farm management when changes in these patterns were different compared with the behavior typical of that individual animal, or others within the same reference group. By providing this information and alerting farmers of changes in characteristic behavior, Florczak said, the solution could provide early indicators of an animal's health, and thereby prevent illness or offer an early warning so that preventative actions could be taken.

While selecting a hardware vendor for the solution, GEA required tags that could identify a cow's location within less than 30 centimeters (11.8 inches), for use by its customers—dairy farms and companies. It also sought to show the real-time movements of cattle within one second on smartphones or Apple iPads, which required a tag blink rate of 2 Hz (two blinks per second) or less. Additionally, the firm required a tag life of more than seven years.

In November 2011, GEA and Zebra Technologies conducted a proof-of-concept project in the Netherlands to verify that Zebra's ultrawide-band (UWB) RFID tags and readers could provide the required location accuracy of 30 centimeters or better, as this was critical for the solution, based on the defined zones within the barn. Once those tests were completed, GEA put together the CowView solution, consisting of Zebra's UWB tags and readers, as well as software developed by GEA.

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