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USDA Embarks on 18-Month UHF RFID Pilot for Tracking Cattle

The project, overseen by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, will test the ability of ranchers, veterinarians, feedlot operators and slaughterhouses to use UHF tags to track animals and their health data.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 07, 2015

The U.S. government's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has launched a nationwide pilot of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology for use in tracking cattle at ranches, feedlots, auctions and slaughterhouses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agency began providing UHF RFID tags to pilot participants last month. APHIS' goal is to determine the feasibility of employing UHF RFID to identify cattle moving from one location to another, including the ability to read tags on multiple animals as they are loaded onto trucks or being observed by veterinarians or other individuals. The UHF technology could be an alternative to low-frequency (LF) RFID, as well as ear tags printed with ID numbers that are read visually.

The USDA is purchasing UHF ear tags, which it then provides to cattle industry members, such as producers, slaughterhouses and feedlots. Currently, the agency is buying UHF ear tags from two companies: HANA Micron America Inc., the U.S. division of Korea-headquartered semiconductor firm HANA Micron, and Y-Tex.The latter company did not respond to a request for comment.

For the APHIS pilot, HANA Micron is providing its RaFID ear tags, made with its own UHF RFID inlay.
Neil Hammerschmidt, APHIS' program manager for animal disease traceability, says the agency could include other RFID vendors in the program as well, though he could not yet name them. To date, UHF RFID tags are being applied to the ears of cattle in Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan and Oklahoma. The 18-month pilot is being overseen by APHIS, with each state's animal health office managing the technology's use locally, as well as collection of the results, which will then be shared with APHIS.

The agency's goal, Hammerschmidt says, is to test the tags' durability in the real-world environment of livestock management, as well as the reliability of the tag reads as the animals move past fixed readers, or handheld units used by veterinarians and cattle industry workers. APHIS expects to have 150,000 head of cattle tagged and tracked in the program, with at least 15 producers and several slaughterhouses participating.

The USDA first approved the use of UHF RFID tags for cattle tracking in 2009, as part of its National Animal Identification System (NAIS)—a voluntary program intended to allow the tracking of animals with a 15-digit animal identification number (see USDA Approves First UHF Tag for Animal Identification System). In February 2010, however, the USDA halted the NAIS program and moved to the current animal disease traceability framework. "The new framework allows maximum flexibility for states, tribal nations and producers to work together to find traceability solutions that meet their local needs," Hammerschmidt explains. In 2012, the USDA finalized its regulations for animal disease traceability, requiring that livestock moving interstate be officially identified (unless otherwise exempt from such a requirement). The USDA's regulations for cattle crossing a state border, however, specify that ear tags be either visual only or contain a passive LF RFID inlay with each animal's official identification number printed on the front. Cattle that remain in their own state or on Native American reservation land are exempt from federal regulation.

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