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New Zealand Study Finds UHF Superior for Livestock Tracking

Researchers with the RFID Pathfinder Group report that EPC RFID tags performed better and more cost-effectively compared with traditional low-frequency tags.
By Dave Friedlos
Jul 29, 2008The RFID Pathfinder Group a New Zealand organization that promotes the adoption of Electronic Product Code (EPC) standards, indicates that preliminary trials of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags showed them to be more efficient and cost-effective for tracking livestock than traditional low-frequency (LF) tags. UHF tags, the researchers found, resulted in greater speed, accuracy and reliability when tracking deer, sheep or cattle.

The group has called for further testing to determine whether UHF tags should be employed instead of the LF tags mandated by the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) project, set up by the government to improve livestock traceability. However, NAIT project manager Craig Purcell says his organization plans to push ahead with LF tags because the technology has been proven and is currently used to track livestock worldwide. Nonetheless, he adds, once UHF RFID's effectiveness for tracking livestock is well confirmed, NAIT intends to welcome the use of ultrahigh-frequency tags by farmers.

Alan Mayo
The New Zealand government recently allocated more than NZ$23 million (US$17 million) for a system that aims to have all cattle and deer tagged with radio frequency identification transponders by 2011 (see New Zealand's National Cattle ID Project Gets $23 Million). Farmers, saleyards and meat processors will be legally mandated to tag deer and cattle with LF HDX or FDX tags, linked to a database containing details of the animals and their movements.

But the Pathfinder Group's chairman, Alan Mayo, argues that if NAIT does not consider the use of UHF tags, the New Zealand livestock industry could miss out on substantial benefits in operational efficiency and cost reduction. "The trials concluded that it is technically feasible to track livestock using UHF," Mayo states, "and that it is beneficial in two key areas. The first is cost—UHF tags are cheaper than LF tags, and the cost is coming down even further as the technology matures and heads towards mainstream adoption."

The RFID Pathfinder Group recently published the results in a report entitled "RFID Technical Study: The Application of UHF RFID Technology to Animal Ear Tagging in Deer, Sheep and Cattle Farming."

The researchers tested two UHF RFID ear tags: One was a button tag tuned to operate at 866 MHz; the other was a hangtag operating at 860 to 960 MHz. Both types complied with the EPC Gen 2 standard. According to Mayo, the performance of the 866 MHz UHF tags was superior to that of the LF tags, with almost 100 percent readability of tags for specific reader antenna layouts, under conditions far exceeding current NAIT requirements.

During the trials, Mayo says, the researchers were able to read hundreds of UHF tags per second at distances of 1.5 to 2 meters (5 to 6.6 feet). LF RFID interrogators, which operate at 125 or 134 kHz, can generally read only one tag at a time, from distances of just centimeters.

"Animals like deer often run through gateways at high speed and in dense packs, but we were still able to detect the tags using UHF," Mayo says. "You can get close to 100 percent readability with LF tags, but the movement of animals must be carefully controlled."

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