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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

For the federal and state animal health officials and cattle producers, the interest in passive UHF tags centers on their long read range. With UHF RFID, users and technology vendors hope the tags can be read at a much longer distance than LF, when large volumes of cattle move through wide alleyways or corrals from one area to another (such as onto or off of trucks, or from one field or building to another)—a scenario that has proved challenging for LF technology, which requires very close reads.

Another challenge for pilot participants may be in ensuring that the UHF read range is not so long that stray reads are captured. For example, accredited veterinarians may want to employ a handheld to capture a tag's ID number each time an animal is vaccinated, but would need to ensure that they interrogate only the tag of the animal being treated, and not those of others milling in the same area.

HANA Micron's complete livestock tracking and management solution includes TSL's 1128 Bluetooth UHF RFID reader, along with HANA Micron's AniTrace app operating on a smartphone mounted on the reader.
"What we're looking for," Hammerschmidt says, "is this: If you've tagged a couple thousand head of cattle, practically what did you find? What was the read accuracy? What was the performance?" For instance, he adds, were the operators able to use handheld or fixed readers to interrogate the tags 90 percent of the time, or only 70 percent?

"The outcome will be of merit by informing the industry of the feasibility we've seen from our perspective of using UHF for animal tracking," Hammerschmidt states. The pilot should serve not only to test the technology, he notes, but also to enable producers in the industry to practice using the tags and readers themselves.

For the APHIS pilot, HANA Micron is providing its RaFID ear tags, made with its own UHF RFID inlay. HANA Micron also offers a complete livestock tracking and management solution known as AniTrace, consisting of AniTrace software that can either be cloud-based or reside on local servers, as well as its own gate reader (for interrogating multiple tags on fast-moving animals) and chute reader (intended for reading and writing tags on select animals only). The company also offers the 1128 Bluetooth UHF RFID reader fromTechnology Solutions Ltd. (TSL), along with an AniTrace app for Android-based phones and tablets. In this case, users of the system can employ their phones to receive and then view RFID data collected by the reader. While the USDA has no commitment to test any company's readers or software, individual states are currently determining which vendors they want to work with in their demonstration projects.

For tags, HANA Micron won an indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract from the USDA, with the estimated total purchase not to exceed $6 million throughout the life of the contract. HANA Micron says it will also supply the TSL readers or its gate or chute readers directly to states if they opt to use the full AniTrace system. The company has already been selling its UHF ear tags for animal tracking within other countries. HANA Micron, based in Korea, has opened a U.S. office (HANA Micron America) to help oversee the technology's use in this country, according to James Choi, HANA Micron America's VP of system integration.

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