Nearly any dairy-management task performed with the aid of a printed list can be done faster and more accurately with the aid of electronic-ID systems, says John Lee, formerly of the Atwater-Merced Veterinary Clinic in California and now a veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health. But getting started can seem be a bit overwhelming.

Electronic-ID systems may appear complicated, but all require the same basic components. The systems feature a transponder on the animal — often a radio-frequency identification (RFID) ear tag — a hand-held computer loaded with an application to interface with your regular herd-management software and a RFID reader, usually a hand-held wand.

Here’s how to implement an electronic-ID system your dairy.

1. Research software options.

Producers have a number of options when it comes to electronic-ID technology, says Brandt Kreuscher, of Valley Ag Software. “The best way to find out about what works best is to talk to someone who is using it,” he advises.

Ask your fellow producers which software they use for both herd-management records and hand-held computers. Most of the programs used by hand-held computers interface with commonly used herd-management software, but query vendors before you buy.

Also, check  how easy or difficult it is to use the program. Determine which vendors, if any, offer technical support before, during and after installation. Be sure that you can use the software to create activity lists unique to your dairy’s management.

2. Select a RFID transponder.

“Some people begin with just the software, but soon see how they can maximize their efforts by adding RFID tags and readers,” says Ladd Muirbrook, account executive for DHI Provo.

A plethora of RFID tags are available, as well as other passive RFID transponders, like implants or transponders worn around animal necks. Tags are currently the most popular producer choice.

Tags should be ISO 11784- and 11785-compliant. For the ISO-11785 tags, transmission is either half-duplex or full-duplex. Both technologies work well in electronic-ID systems; most readers will work with either format. Just
be sure that your reader is compatible with whichever one you choose.

Evaluate device-retention rates (how well it stays on the animal) before making your selection.

3. Pick a reader

The reader is what sends an electronic signal to the animal’s RFID transponder. The transponder — in the form of a tag or other device — then replies with its stored information. You have a variety of RFID readers to choose from.

A hand-held wand reader will serve most dairies well. Most of these tools are enabled with Bluetooth wireless technology and offer portability and ease of use. Check for compatibility with your software, as well as read-rates (what proportion of the tags the device reads) and read-distance. It’s not unrealistic to expect nearly 100 percent read-rates.

Older units required short read-distances of 6 inches or less, but look for units that offer up to 18 inches or more of read-distance, recommends Lee.      

Furthermore, the reader must be able to read whichever RFID-transponder technology you choose. “Nearly every reader on the market will work with available RFID tags and implants, but check just to make sure,” says Muirbrook.

4. Integrate the system

Once you’ve evaluated each of the components, you’re ready to put the system together. Just remember that compatibility between every component in the system is the key to success.

If computer- and technology-savvy, you can purchase each component individually to create your own system. Or, choose one of several turn-key systems designed specifically for dairies to take some of the guesswork out of your decision. Whichever option you select, be sure that adequate technical support is available and that you are dealing with a reputable company with an established track record. 

For more information

According to the executive summary of the National Animal Identification System’s recent report on pilot projects, RFID is not a “plug-and-play” application. It must be customized to meet individual needs and locations. Overall, the majority of pilot projects reported that the RFID/reader technology required careful setup, calibration, modification and use. Check out the following Web sites for more information on electronic-animal-ID systems or individual system components:

For a longer list of electronic-ID system and component venders, follow this link.