In order to ensure continuous monitoring of individual animals, farmers need reliable technologies to help them cope with their tasks – in line with Precision Livestock Farming, which will take place from the 15th to the 18th. November is the focus of EuroTier 2022. In addition to animal welfare and animal health, the exhibitors in Hanover are increasingly committed to more transparency along the supply chain. With regard to the solutions of the trade fair for animal husbandry and livestock management, it becomes clear why individual identification using digital tools is an important step towards improving traceability.
Transparency along the entire food chain is increasingly becoming the focus of trade, the food industry and agriculture. More and more meat processing companies are introducing traceability systems at the individual animal level, which is a mammoth task given the complexity of today’s supply chains – because traceability begins with birth and extends to labelling at the meat counter or the label of the packaging.
Transparency from the stable to the counter
Whether pig, poultry, sheep or cattle: The official labelling of farm animals is now regulated throughout Europe. It all started with the introduction of a system for the identification and registration of cattle in 2000. Since then, every beef in the European Union has been uniformly labelled. Thus, all calves must be unmistakably marked with two identical double ear tags after birth. The brands are structured the same throughout the EU: First comes the country code, followed by an animal-specific ten-digit number. Among other things, it stands for the federal state, the administrative district, the district, the municipality and the current company number. All information is also noted as a barcode, which can be read in by means of a scanner. All necessary data is stored in the origin security and information system for animals (HI animal) in Munich. In addition to birth and death, every animal movement must be reported to this central database within seven days. The curriculum vitae of each cattle in Germany is thus recorded. Based on the ear tag number, it can be displayed with one click.
Immediately after slaughter, the animal identification number on the ear tag is linked to a newly assigned slaughter number and recorded. In order to ensure complete traceability to the counter, the slaughterhouse reports the slaughter date, carcass weight and carcass category to the central database. In this way, the holdings of origin as well as all holdings and slaughterhouses of an animal can be identified and indicated on the label of the meat.
Possibilities of electronic marking
Twelve years ago, Denmark already showed that the electronic identification of cattle simplifies daily work and improves traceability. In 2010, mandatory labelling was introduced there at the efforts of local breeders. Meanwhile, EU Regulation 654/2014 stipulates that since the 18th July 2019, every Member State of the European Union must ensure the possibility of electronic identification of cattle. The selection of EU-approved labelling media is large. Cattle can be equipped either with two conventional ear tags according to the existing regulations or alternatively with a conventional ear tag and a microchip approved by the EU. Here, visual marking is combined with electronic.
Another possibility provided for by the EU regulation is the bolus – a ceramic cylinder inside which is the actual transponder. Due to its own weight, it remains in the rumen or net stomach and is only removed from the animal at slaughter. The also approved injection, the third variant, is injected subcutaneously. However, it carries the risk that animals whose inject is untraceable during the slaughter process cannot be used for human consumption.
The digital ear tag in use
Several EU countries already apply electronic animal identification – often on a voluntary basis, such as Germany. Different, for example, in Austria, where since autumn 2019, in addition to the conventional ear tag, the second brand on the left ear must be mandatory with an integrated electronic chip. All calves as well as cattle imported from third countries must be marked with the new system. The animals are recorded via radio frequency identification (RFID), which allows contactless and automatic identification at a distance of 20 to 30 centimeters with mobile readers and up to 100 centimeters with stationary readers. The ear tags are designed as read-only passive transponders with FDX-B technology and comply with ISO 11784 and ISO 11785 standards. Only the life number of the animal is stored on the transponder. It can be read out with readers according to the ISO 11785 standard.
State of the art are portable RFID scanners, as they will also be presented at the EuroTier in Hanover. They combine an alphanumeric keyboard and a graphic display in a robust IP64 housing. With a storage capacity of up to 6,000 ear tags, they offer maximum flexibility when working in the yard. Farmers can thus link the visual ear tag to the electronic one, store the weight and measure daily progress. In addition, the devices are able to store several characteristics of the animals such as sex, breed and condition. In addition, the ear tag of the dam can be linked to the calf. Even in the event of a battery failure, the data is preserved. USB and Bluetooth as standard interfaces as well as optional modules for mobile or WiFi ensure flexible and wireless communication. The scanners are complemented by robust stablese devices in protection class IP68, which are designed for harsh environments such as slaughterhouses. Thanks to the built-in real-time clock, they allow the storage of the ear tags with time stamps.
Professional management in animal husbandry
The electronic ear tag creates new possibilities for the automated collection of animal, performance and health data. Solutions, originally developed for the sole process control of milking and stable technology, are gradually supplemented by elements of inventory management. In modern stable management, this means that only the life number of the ear tag is read at all electronically controlled stations such as potions, feeding station or milking parlour. Weighing is thus possible without much time and without additional stressing the animal – because the weight is automatically recorded, for example, when running via a platform with weighing cells. The identification takes place via an ear tag reader, which stores the information and passes it on to the software for herd and operation management. This also makes it possible to use mobile data acquisition devices with connection to internal or external databases for herd and health management. The downstream areas of cattle husbandry also benefit from the electronic ear tags, because the simple and quick identification of slaughter animals enables the highest safety and quality standards in the production of animal products. However, the choice of suitable software is not always easy. At EuroTier 2022, livestock farmers will find a number of professional solutions for the visual representation and processing of animal data. They convert the labeling and monitoring data into actionable information that is displayed in intuitive dashboards. With a mouse click, they take over the exchange with HI-Tier and meet the documentation and reporting regulations in cattle farming.
In the future, the “button in the ear” should also facilitate individual animal care – because the assessment of animal welfare is ultimately always the focus of the individual animal, digital technologies promise greater consideration of the needs of the individual. An aspect that can also be seen in the DLG forum “Milk & Beef” (Hall 12) and in the spotlight “Focus on Animal Welfare” (Hall 26) from the 15th to the 18th. November will be discussed at the exhibition center in Hanover. There, experts comment on current issues of milk production and cattle farming and inform about topics such as cow-bound calf rearing.