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Food Company Pilots UHF RFID to Enhance Pig Life History

Tönnies Livestock's RFID technology is tracking the life cycles of about 100,000 pigs from birth to slaughter, to identify their health and treatments as they are born, fattened and butchered, thereby creating a health identification for each animal and providing analytics for farmers so they can adjust their methods.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 31, 2017

Radio frequency identification provides an opportunity for the food industry to better monitor the health of animals and the storage of meat before it is provided to consumers. With that in mind, German food industry company Tönnies Livestock's business group has developed an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) system for tracking pigs using a passive RFID-enabled ear tag and readers, as well as its own software to manage the collected data.

Tönnies has been piloting the technology with swine breeder and genetics firm Topigs Norsvin since February 2016, and intends to complete the pilot next month. The organization has already been using RFID as part of its fTrace system which captures and stores data related to the slaughtering of a pig and provides that data to customers. The new RFID data, on the other hand, looks back to the earliest days of the pig's life, by tracking the animal from the breeder to the slaughterhouse. The RFID data is being captured and stored on IQ-Agrar Service GmbH IQ-cloud-based software.

The fTrace system tracks a pig's life cycle from birth to slaughter.
Tönnies Livestock, a subsidiary company within the Tönnies Group, manages the supply of pigs to Tönnies' slaughterhouses, according to customer specifications and needs. Tönnies Livestock works with a variety of farms and producers, and oversees data management related to the breeding and fattening of pigs. Tönnies' business group is tasked with developing new technologies that advance the production and marketing of meat products.

The business group has been using RFID-enabled slaughter-hooks since the late 1990s as part of its fTrace program, and has refined the data collection at the point of slaughtering throughout the years. The data collected is used to create a pig ID card that contains such information as where the animal is from, when and where it was slaughtered, and when and where the shelf-read product was manufactured and packed.

With the more recently launched RFID pilot, the focus is on the life of the pig, in order to assist with the basic supply chain. The data is intended to be shared with breeding organizations, piglet producers, fatteners, slaughterhouses and marketers. For producers, the data (such as the animal's weight at birth) can help them understand the pig's entire life cycle and, therefore, how to improve the production or fattening processes. Tönnies Livestock and marketers can use this information to ensure an animal's health before the resulting packaged meat is sold.

The RFID pilot consists of UHF RFID ear tags, as well as handheld RFID readers provided by agriculture technology company MS Schippers. IQ-Agrar Service GmbH provides the cloud-based software that manages the RFID read data.

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