Electronic ID: LambTracker makes management affordable
Electronic identification (EID) systems for small operations were not a cost effective management tool for Oogie and Ken McGuire’s small sheep operation until recently.
The McGuires, who own Desert Weyr, LLC have developed an affordable solution called LambTracker.
LambTracker is a mobile application that works with any smart phone or handheld device that has Bluetooth and an Android operating system. This app is free to the public and only requires a low cost reader to work.
Satisfying a need
The need to work smarter, not harder, led to the development of LambTracker.
“We developed this EID tracking system for our own sheep flock when we realized we needed something better than the visual method we were using,” says Oogie McGuire, whose family runs Black Welch Mountain sheep. “Inevitably, one or two tags would be misread and having to go back through all the sheep to find the error costs valuable time and money.”
“It became more and more obvious that a more accurate electronic system that would read every tag every time was needed,” she explains.
“We chose the Android operating system because their Bluetooth is an open environment. Producers do not have to use specific devices or applications,” explains McGuire, who wrote the software. “To Bluetooth on Apple devices, producers would have to use an Apple-approved Bluetooth chip and application.”
The digital EID reader developed by McGuire’s husband Ken can be built for less than $100. It is built using PVC pipe, an Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Reader Module from Australia that reads both HDX and FDX-B tags, a Bluetooth device and a battery pack.
When processing the animals, the reader activates the electronic ear tag in the sheep and relays the information via Bluetooth to a handheld computer. McGuire says these tags are available from the USDA as management tags that are not Scapie approved. Each tag costs $1.49 including shipping. A second visual tag can be purchased for 13 cents.
“Most handheld computers may not have the capacity for all the data and information to be stored on it,” McGuire explains, “so producers can need something that will run on a desktop computer to store the all of the information. When producers have management tasks to perform, they would take a subset of that data and put that on the handheld device so the reader can communicate with it and more information can be gathered.”
McGuire says handheld devices can hold smaller data sets for tasks such as lambing.
“The smaller screen size of handheld computers is also an issue. Producers may keep more information on a single sheep than can be displayed easily on a phone, for example,” she adds.
McGuire says that she and her husband are focusing on five tasks that will help improve LambTracker system.
She says the first task is converting all existing ID tags to EID tags and transferring all existing information into the operating system. This will allow for more detailed lambing data to be inputted.
The second is collecting National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) data. She says the goal is to be able to scan the sheep as they pass through the chute and record data quickly and easily.
“NSIP is a way to provide phenotypic data measurements for weight, loin eye area, fat deposition, wool data and lambing ease,” she explains. “The data from that animal and for the group they were raised in are analyzed by a computer in Australia to calculate the estimated breeding value (EBV).”
The third task is a way to record and manage drug and vaccine administration and slaughter withdrawal.
“We want to develop this so we are confidently able to say any given animal is not in slaughter withdrawal as we load them into the trailer,” McGuire states.
The fourth task, according to McGuire, is to produce the required official yearly reports to stay qualified as an Export Certified Scrapie Free flock.
The final task is to expand the lambing data to collect birth weights and statistics on lambs as they are born.
Their goal is to have a functioning draft form of these programs before Scrapie flock inspection and lambing this coming spring.
Producers are able to modify this system to fit their operation because it is an open source program.
“We developed this program for ourselves, but other producers can take that code and can run it for their operation or can change that code to better suit them,” McGuire explains. “We did this deliberately and have already has some interest from different industries.”
“Our vet also works with some of the domestic elk herds in the area and has expressed some interest in using this to manage them,” she continues. “If those producers want to edit the program to fit their operation, they have the ability to do that.”
In addition to the flexibility the program provides, McGuire stresses the flexibility in cost.
“If producers have a need for EID tags, it doesn’t have to be as expensive as everyone says it is,” says McGuire. “Producers don’t have to be managing large flocks to afford this technology.”