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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
When the swine are transported to the slaughterhouse, their tags are again read using a Deister Electronic UDL 500 reader with an integrated antenna. Schippers installed a Speedway Revolution R420 reader and added four additional antennas, which it attached to the slaughterhouse's ceiling in order to boost the tags' read range. The firm is also developing a stick antenna that can be plugged into a handheld reader, allowing staff members at a farm or slaughterhouse to capture tags that might otherwise be difficult to reach (for example, on a pig's ear in a crowded pen.)

At the slaughterhouse, Schippers' researchers read each animal's tag as it arrives, and again after slaughter. The interrogators capture the ID numbers and transmit that data to a computer loaded with the PigExpert software, which, at this time, is not integrated with the slaughterhouse's own management system. In the future, the company reports, that information will be shared with the slaughterhouse. Currently, after the pig carcass is hung on a hook (attached to a conveyor) that stays with the carcass as it is processed, the slaughterhouse's staff views the meat's quality and weight, and reads an LF RFID tag attached to that hook, as well as entering data into the slaughterhouse's system to be linked to the hook's ID number. That process creates a record of the pig's health and size as the animal is then butchered and processed for retail sale of the meat. In the future, Beljaars says, a UHF tag will be attached to the hook. That hook tag will then be automatically linked in the software to the ID tag on the pig's ear.

Schippers' Peter Beljaars
To date, the pilot has led Schippers to make several modifications to the technology, according to Beljaars. He says he found that when a pig was tagged very shortly after birth, its ear grew so much prior to slaughter that the tag tended to drop through the piecing and out of the ear. The company then developed a tag with a narrower pin that creates a smaller hole in the ear; this tag, he says, is proving to stay in the pig's ear throughout its life, even as the animal grows. The tag's read range is still shorter than Beljaars would like—he hopes for a range of at least 3 meters (9.8 feet)—but thus far, he says, it has proven to be slightly less. Compared with LF, UHF signals are more sensitive to obstructions created by water or objects containing water (such as people and swine). However, tag redevelopment and antenna placement have eliminated that problem, Beljaars reports.

Schippers will be selling the UHF ear tags in November, along with handheld and fixed readers and Schippers' own stick antenna, while users could also acquire the UHF version of the PigExpert software.

Schippers will not be the first company, however, to market a UHF RFID solution designed for pigs. In December 2011, the Danish Agriculture & Food Council's Pig Research Center completed a three-year pilot that tested the use of EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID technology to track swine from farm to slaughterhouse. The project, known as PigTracker, included five Danish pig breeders, with up to 3,000 animals receiving EPC Gen 2 passive ear tags developed by TraceCompany (see PigTracker Project Finds UHF Tags Effective for Swine). Recently, TraceCompany began marketing the tags used for the PigTracker application. TraceCompany's ear tag, known as QuickTag Q1 UHF/B, is now commercially available, and is in use in about five herds, reports Niels Peter Baadsgaard, the Pig Research Center's chief researcher, who helped develop and test the technology. Like the Schippers solution, the TraceCompany ear tag is made with a Monza 4 chip.

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