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RFID Brings Intelligence and Treatment to Livestock Production

Alberta company GrowSafe is pairing RFID identification with sensor data at feed and drink troughs, in order to identify and analyze the health and behavior of cattle and other livestock from birth to slaughter.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 16, 2017

Animal technology company GrowSafe Systems has been providing its feed lot customers with radio frequency identification solutions to track cattle health and behavior for the past four years. More recently, the company has been working on monitoring grazing cattle. With this information, farmers and producers have been monitoring not only where each animal is located, but also—by pairing a cow's ID number with its sensor data—how that animal is acting and feeling.

In that way, farmers can better predict when a particular animal may be ill, as well as which cattle are thriving and which genetic factors make them thrive. Now, says Alison Sunstrum, GrowSafe's co-CEO, the company is moving beyond the capturing and analyzing of data to providing treatment to specific animals, based on the collected RFID- and sensor-based data.

GrowSafe's Alison Sunstrum
GrowSafe has spent several decades researching and testing how RFID can be used to identify livestock. The Alberta company began its RFID foray with ostrich chicks. Because the birds were highly valued and very sensitive (only about 12 percent reach maturity), the firm began tracking the birds in the 1990s via 125 kHZ low-frequency (LF) RFID-enabled leg bands, to track how long they remained at the feeding trough and how much they ate during each visit. That information enabled ostrich farmers to better identify which birds were at risk, and their survivability improved with resulting treatment.

GrowSafe's system has since been expanded to livestock, most commonly cattle. The company offers systems that measure feed and water consumption, which resemble typical steel farm equipment but, in fact, have RFID antennas and reading technology built into them, along with sensors that weigh animals, or their feed, water and environment. That sensor data, paired with each animal's ID, enables GrowSafe to provide farmers and producers with information regarding every animal and its behavior.

But merely collecting the data is not enough to improve operations, Sunstrum notes, and GrowSafe has been focusing on how the RFID and sensor data can be filtered and analyzed. GrowSafe's integrated hardware and software, in fact, captures the data, analyzes any changes in animal behavior or weight, and is designed to display alerts if such changes take place.

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