There are many reasons to identify sheep and goats, including record keeping, proof of ownership, registration and traceability.
There are numerous options to do this: ear tags (of many kinds), paint brands or marks, ear notches, neck chains and collars, and tattoos. RFID is becoming an increasingly popular
RFID stands for radio frequency identification. It involves the use of radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag attached to an object — or animal. The technology has been around for more than 50 years. Its roots trace to World War II when radio waves were used to identify friendly aircraft.
For the purposes of identifying livestock, RFID includes four components: a transponder, a receiver, a data accumulator and a data management system. Optional components include automatic scales and drafting systems.
The transponder is usually an ear tag, but it can also be a collared or leg tag, subcutaneous implant, or rumen bolus.
The tag contains a silicon microchip and antenna. The microchip contains a unique 15-digit number, which consists of a three-digit country code — 840 for U.S. — and a 12-digit individual animal number.
RFID can be used as an official scrapie ID if it is purchased from a USDA-approved vendor.
Electronic tags are often paired with visual tags. The visual tag can be used for breed registration and everyday use, and serves as back-up ID as electronic ID and visual ID are forever linked in the data management system.
RFID tags can be passive or active. Passive tags do not have a battery or energy source. They are activated when they pass within the transmission field of the reader. The tag absorbs enough energy from the reader to return a signal. Active tags have their own power source and can be used to track the location and behavior of an animal.
A receiver, or reader, is required to read an electronic identification device. Readers allow tags to be read without handling the animal or cleaning the tag. They eliminate human error. Read distance varies, from 6 inches to more than a meter.
There are two kinds of readers: handheld and panel. Handheld readers, often called sticks or wands, are usually powered by rechargeable batteries. They are usually Bluetooth enabled. Panel readers are usually attached to raceways and scale boxes.
The data accumulator is any device that can accept data from the reader. These include a scale head, data recorder, computer, smartphone and tablet.
The data management system is the software that will be used to work with the data. It is the key to making optimal use of RFID as the primary purpose of RFID is enhanced record-keeping and management. Many software packages and mobile apps are able to accept RFID.
Many countries require RFID as part of the National Animal Identification Programs. In Maryland, all swine and cattle exhibited in 2017 will be required to have RFID tags.
RFID is mandatory for sheep and goats in Canada and the UK.
It is common to microchip pets. Even some goat registries require microchipping.
Is it time to ask yourself if and how RFID will allow you to manage your sheep and goats better?
Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with University of Maryland Extension.