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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

Now, the company is taking another step toward that effort by automating some responses made with regard to animals' status, such as providing minerals or vitamins or dispersing a variety of medications based on the sensor information. The solution can also automatically spray-paint the back of a cow as it is feeding or drinking, if the system identifies that it requires additional help, thereby making it easier for the feed lot health crew to visually identify that animal.

GrowSafe recommends LF half-duplex ear tags to its customers, or a customer can acquire its own tags. The company has tested all types of RFID frequencies, Sunstrum says, and has settled on LF half-duplex tags due to their short-range transmission, which ensures that a tag will be read only when the animal to which it is attached is actually in the unit where sensor data is being collected. In addition, she says, the firm determined that LF tags could be read reliably in the presence of metal, dirt and water.

"If a transponder will read at a 12-inch distance from the antenna through air," Sunstrum says, "it will also read at this distance when there is flesh, mud, glass, water or any other non-metallic object in between." GrowSafe built its own systems that combine its hardware, sensors and software, as well as a local data-acquisition computer

Typically, an animal goes to a feed or water trough, where measurement hardware has been positioned. The sensors on the feed trough can measure changes at a resolution of 10 grams (0.4 ounce), so they can identify how much feed is leaving the trough as a cow is standing there. Load sensors affixed around the water trough can measure the weight of the animal itself as it drinks.

When the units read a tag, that tag's ID number and accumulated animal environmental and other sensor data is forwarded to a gateway via the best transmission method onboard, such as a Wi-Fi, cellular or satellite connection. The units form a mesh network; the data can be sent directly to a computer gateway located as far as 60 miles away, or by piggyback even further. The data processing and analytic software runs both on a local server dedicated to a customer site, as well as on GrowSafe's own hosted server.

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