Implantable RFID microchips: a livestock management tool for the twenty-first century

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The most vital component in life today is quality food. One of the key factors contributing to economic growth and an increased standard of living worldwide is maintenance of livestock. Livestock management in turn is greatly impacted by environmental factors, disease, genetics, technology and economic changes.

Therefore, it is imperative for governments to consider and control for these factors when formulating livestock policy, and for the policy makers, scientists, livestock keepers, insurance companies, and society at large to have access to relevant data for decision making. Proper record keeping forms the basis for both routine management and genetic improvement of livestock.

The first step towards implementing a modern record keeping program is identification of the animals. Conventional identification using ear tags is convenient and has the advantage of being familiar, but often suffers from problems of tag loss while grazing. The solution to the problem of eartag loss is the use of animal implantable RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, so-called microchips, which overcome most of the disadvantages inherent in conventional identification methods.

At their simplest, animal implantable microchips consist of an integrated circuit (IC), attached to an antenna assembly, inside a hermetically sealed glass capsule. Glass is the preferred encapsulant because it is not permeable by body fluids, protecting the electronics inside and thereby ensuring long microchip life. The device is tiny: only about 12mm long, and passive, meaning it doesn’t contain any kind of power source: it “sleeps” until it is activated by a compatible scanner, at which point it returns its identification code to the reader. There are no batteries to expire or run down; and the tag can last for the life of the animal.

The reader will relay the microchip ID number to a data terminal, mobile device or PC running livestock management software. Use of RFID microchips and readers eliminates keypad data entry errors and transcription errors, essentially removing human error from the equation.

Reliable, lifelong identification is the foundation of any successful record keeping program. The individual animal identifier has to be globally unique, and not subject to spontaneous or wilful alteration.

21st century livestock management in Kerala

The State of Kerala in India has proved to be an innovator in this field. Trovan animal implantable microchips and scanners were deployed in conjunction with a mobile-phone based app and cloud-based database. The objective was to replace conventional plastic eartags which were subject to fraudulent modification or removal. The first step was identification of each animal using an RFID microchip and registering its owner(s). The program recorded the milk production of individual cows over time, enabling identification of the most productive animals so they could be targeted for reproduction, thereby improving the herd. Cows belonging to native species were also flagged.

Rwanda Success Story:

In Rwanda, a livestock insurance system based on the use of implantable RIFD microchips was unveiled to combat fraud. Rwanda joins the small number of countries globally who have implemented a national Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system and database for livestock. This national digital database is designed to improve decision making for both the government and the private sector, allowing identification of individual animals, and protecting stock against theft and fraud.

By using RFID microchip technology, the insurance company can significantly reduce the fraud through more accurate identification of animals and changing business processes for livestock insurance. When traditional ear tags are used, the claim instances for livestock insurance are often high due to the possibility of fraud, reducing the availability of affordable coverage.

Satisfaction surveys have shown that use of RFID microchip technology empowers farmers, giving them easy access to the insurance product and allowing them to enjoy doorstep services where they are not required to go to different places for enrolment or to make a claim. Instead, they are able to interact with the system at any hour, from home. The process is simple and intuitive: scan the animal’s RFID microchip, and file the claim on-line. Most claims are processed within a fortnight as opposed to the earlier off-line claim settlement approach, which could take up to six months; and required farmers to submit paper forms and send the ear tags to the insurer for claim settlement.

By using Trovan RFID microchip technology, paired with a powerful mobile app and cloud database, Rwandan farmers, insurance companies, surveyors, and vets all participate as stake holders.  Field staff – either the employee of the insurance company or the designated officer – can report to the location of the claim within six hours of notification to validate the claim and read the RFID micro-chip. The information is then electronically transferred to a claims department within the Insurance Company, including identity of the animal, the exact location and claimant information. The Company is assured correct data, and consequently is able to respond to claims quickly as they trust the technology and claims process.

 

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