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RTLS Lets Pigs Roam Free

Two European farms have tested the active RFID animal tags, enabling farmers to track each pig's health and location, and a number of farmers will soon install them, according to the system's providers.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 24, 2012Austrian wireless technology company MKW Electronics (MKWE) has completed trialing an active RFID system in two European pig farms in an effort to gain real-time visibility into each animal. The system is intended to benefit farmers as they prepare to comply with European mandates requiring livestock have communal free range in larger areas than in the single-animal holding areas currently in use.

The real-time location system (RTLS) includes 2.4 GHz active RFID tags complying with IEEE 802.15.4a standard, attached to the pigs' ears, and receivers installed on the walls of the pigs' covered premises, enabling farms to see where their animals are and receive alerts if their behavior has changed, signaling a possible illness or injury. The readers and tags are being provided by Nanotron with tag casings and system software provided by MKWE.

Nanotron recently developed its 2.4 GHz chip spread spectrum (CSS) NanoLoc series of small battery-powered RFID tags and readers for tracking animals, assets and people using a small tag and "anchors" that receive the ID number or other data encoded on the tag. One of its primary focuses is on the livestock industry, where changing European laws are making tracking of animals such as cows and pigs more challenging.

Nanotron's Thomas Förste
Traditionally, livestock have been housed in enclosed small spaces, making it easy for farmers to monitor their health and overall condition and ensure the livestock don't infect each other. However, EU laws pending for 2013 will require that farmers provide some level of free ranging for the animals, keeping them in larger communal pens. At some points, these animals will be harder to monitor visually since they will roam around a much larger space.

The NanoLoc tags transmit a chirp—a brief signal across the entire 2.4 GHz band. The chirps are received by the readers, with Nanotron software using the signal's time difference of arrival (TDOA) to calculate each tag's location within about three meters. The technology operates similarly, says Thomas Förste, Nanotron's marketing and sales VP. The MKWE software then creates a record of the animal's location and its movement patterns, analyzing how quickly it moves from one location to another. If those movements change significantly—for example if an animal that has been active suddenly becomes very inactive—the software determines that an alert needs to be sent to the farm's managers, who can then physically visit the premises and identify whether an animal may be sick, need medication or need to be removed from the herd.

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