Monday, September 26, 2011

RFID Tagging: Government Mandate Or Breeders’ New Best Friend?

by Sam Hodges

Radio Frequency Identification, more commonly know as RFID, is a foreign concept to most of us in the cattle industry. Sure we have heard the term in the news and possible implementation by the US Department of Agriculture, but what can we as breeders gain from a business standpoint if this becomes a policy requirement to use RFID technology?
      First, let’s take a look at the government’s current usage of RFID. Since 2004, the Department of Defense has required all of its contracts to be RFID capable. Military bases worldwide have been implemented with RFID scanners and networks, tracking all deliveries to bases from something as simple as a pallet of uniforms, to heavy weaponry such as tanks and missiles. Using these networks has cut back on costs in supply management, maintained a much more accurate inventory, and virtually eliminated equipment loss. RFID has made it much simpler for everyone to know where what is, how long it has been there, and what has been done to it.
      That’s great, but how can we benefit? Imagine this. A client pulls up to your ranch and backs their trailer up to unload. You walk to the trailer, slide a paddle-like attachment RFID scanner into the trailer and over the cattle, push a button on your hand-held device, and a list is automatically generated including the cattles’ tattoos, registration numbers, and owner, all in about a minute. All of this information is stored in a RFID chip inside a scanable ear-tag (scanable ear tags are generally preferred because of the ability to physically write an ID number on the tag for visible identification).Unload the trailer, count the number of head to ensure you inventory is correct and everything was scanned, and turn the cattle out. If the client loads up other cattle they are picking up into the trailer, repeat the process. Scan them with the attachment, verify your inventory, and push a button. Your computer automatically has an inventory of what cattle came in on what date, what cattle left on what date, and where the cattle went for your records. This is also beneficial to sale-barn inventory and accounting, as well as feedlots.
     Still not satisfied? Put a cow in your chute, scan the RFID tag with your hand held device and her information pops up. She is in heat so you AI her and push a button. You select the bull you AI’ed her to on your device by pushing a button and turn the cow out. This is applicable with any services you perform on cattle, from AI, to embryo work, to simple vaccinations. At the end of the month, pull up the client’s file and all transactions you have performed on their cattle are listed chronologically with pricing. The computer automatically calculates the total and it is ready to print and be mailed. You could also print a list of all services you performed for the month in chronological order for your own breeding records.
      Of course, the government isn’t primarily focused on the personal benefits of RFID tagging. USDA is more interested in the ability to identify animals quickly in the event of a disease outbreak. If there was a disease outbreak, within seconds authorities could trace the animal, the property it came from, and every movement the animal has made.  This enables them to isolate the specific region while the rest of the country continues trading. No policy is currently in effect, primarily due to concerns about privacy and protection of information; however, new RFID tags provide encryption capabilities to only allow general information to be read from the tag, such as name, tattoo, and ownership, with all other information requiring a pass code. This would protect sale price, health records, and any other information stored on the tag.
     With the current economic climate, government projects in relation to animal RFID tagging are not top priorities so don’t expect to see anything passing through Congress anytime soon. What you can do is research the topic further and perform a cost/benefit analysis. The cost would be considered expensive by most, but the benefit would be less headaches at the end of the month when billing, wondering who 245U is and what she’s doing on your place, or figuring out which 555T cow this is since duplicate tattoos are a recurrent issue. The industry is gearing up for a major change and advancement. Will you be ready?