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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

Each day, the GrowSafe software audits information about feed supplied to each animal, as well as weight and other sensor data, then provides recommendations to the customer. This can include how long each animal spends feeding or drinking, how fast the cow consumed its feed, how many animals feed at once and information about social hierarchies—which animal feeds first, for instance, or which cows feed together.

The technology development began with simply identifying when ostriches or other animals were located at a feed trough. However, Sunstrum says, "Today, we have a sophisticated platform that collects data continuously, and we can use that data to make management decision-making predictions." Those predictions, she adds, are the first line of defense in mitigating potential health, social or genetic problems, or in leveraging certain animals' strengths. The solution enables users to compare feed conversion and weight gain with the livestock's genetic background.

"Over the past few years," Sunstrum states, "we have been working on automating the response" to sensor and RFID data. For several years, she explains, the company has been offering the first phase in that concept, by enabling automatic spray-painting. If, while a cow is feeding, the software determines that it could have a health issue—due, for example, to a reduction in its feed or water intake several times in a row—the GrowSafe unit automatically spray-paints the animal's back. The customer can then receive a list of cows that may require treatment, and a worker can simply walk through the lot looking for those with painted backs.

What's more, Sunstrum reports, the technology can automatically deliver substances to animals based on sensor data.

In the big picture, Sunstrum says, GrowSafe envisions the automatic collection of data throughout the food chain, from the soil in which animal feed plants are grown to the plant's health, the animal's health and, finally, the quality of the meat provided to consumers. "There's a relationship between human health, food, plants and the soil" in which plants are grown, she explains, and the tracking of livestock health is the beginning of automating the collection of the entire food supply data, as well as improving sustainability and productivity based on that information.

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