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Dutch Technology Companies Develop EPC UHF Solution for Tracking Pigs

Schippers and PureSpekt have developed a tag that Schippers intends to market with third-party readers next year, as a solution for farmers.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 26, 2012Schippers, a Dutch livestock farm tools and technology provider, has completed a three-year pilot of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags for pigs. The company developed the pilot with PureSpekt, and plans to begin marketing the tags in November 2012. The UHF tags, designed specifically to fit within a piglet's ear and track the animal from birth to slaughter, promise to be a less expensive solution than the low-frequency (LF) tags more commonly used in the swine industry, and to have a longer read range, thereby enabling the tags to be read from several meters away using both fixed and handheld readers.

Schippers sells products around the world to farmers of livestock—including pigs, poultry and cattle—such as fertility support, hygiene products, pest control and animal identification. Approximately four years ago, the company began investigating UHF RFID solutions for tracking animals, particularly pigs. "We were convinced that there are challenges coming in the business that will make it very important to identify every piglet," says Peter Beljaars, Schippers' product manager for animal identification. Those challenges include pending European Union and Dutch regulations requiring that consumers be provided with information regarding the quality and supply chain of the meat they purchase, as well as higher expectations from consumers related to meat quality, and the need for farms to improve their own management in order to compensate for increasingly thin profit margins.

For the pilot project, each piglet was fitted with a UHF RFID ear tag, with a Psion handheld reader used to capture the tag's unique ID number tag and link to data about the animal.

Most RFID tags currently in use by pig farmers are low-frequency, but there are shortcomings related to LF RFID technology—namely, the high tag cost, as well as the need for a reader to be placed within several centimeters of a tag in order to be able to read it. "So we started thinking about UHF," Beljaars says. The firm began working with passive EPC Gen 2 tag manufacturer PureSpekt to develop a UHF tag of a very similar form factor to the existing LF ear tags, and launched a pilot involving farms throughout Holland, as well as in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. The pigs were fitted with the ear tags designed by PureSpekt and Schippers, after which Schippers tested readers with those tags and worked with software to manage the collected read data. Information was tracked when the animals were first fitted with the tags, when vaccinations and other services where provided, and when the pigs were transported from the farm. The pilot also involves a Dutch slaughterhouse where readers are being used to capture tag ID numbers, including a final read after the animals are slaughtered.

The tags were created in two processes. First, a plastic, cup-shaped disk was molded to a pin inserted through the animal's ear. A custom-made PureSpekt RFID inlay (containing an Impinj Monza 4 chip) was then placed inside the cup, and a second process molded the inlay into the cup. The tag was designed to meet the temperature and pressure used during the molding process, and to continue operating under those conditions. The tag itself measures 28.4 millimeters (1.12 inches) in diameter, while the inlay inside it measures 25 millimeters (1 inch) in diameter.

At the farms, Schippers installed an Impinj Speedway Revolution R420 reader with four antennas, attached to the ceiling above the piglets, as well as one on two walls. Each piglet was fitted with the UHF RFID tag. A Psion Workabout Pro G2/G3 handheld interrogator was used to capture each tag's unique ID number, and to link to data input about the animal, such as its birth date, weight, location and parents' ID. All of this information is then stored in PigExpert software provided by Dutch software company Agrisyst. The software, commonly used by farmers, was designed for LF technology, but was modified for the pilot to manage data from the UHF tags. Each time a tag was read, that data was forwarded to the PigExpert software, thereby creating an "electronic passport" for that particular pig, including all details pertaining to its health on the farm.

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