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Equine RFID Tagging
 By Winniefield Park   •   19th Sep 2017   •   941 views   •   0 comments


A few weeks ago, I wrote about the different types of brands you will find on horses. Brands, whether hot or cold, are a more or less permanent type of identification. The downside of these marks is that they are painful or at least uncomfortable for the horse when first done, they mar the horse’s coat and they don’t really provide much information. They may identify breed or original ownership, but they don’t tell you who the horse belongs to now, or what has happened to the horse since the horse was branded. There is another way to identify and track horses, however.

You might have heard of microchips. In fact, your dog or cat might have a microchip implant, right now. If you’ve kept up the records properly, and the company that originally made the chip still keeps its database up-to-date, a scanner will pick up the encoded information in the chip with your name and address, making it easier to return your pet to you should it become lost. Microchip implants for dogs and cats have been around for a few decades now.

When the ‘mad cow’ outbreak became a concern, microchip implants, also known as RFID replaced barcode tags in cattle’s ears, and have become essential for keeping meticulous livestock records. In Canada and Australia, all cattle must be microchipped.

Microchips, also called RFID implants are not much bigger than a grain of rice. Inside a glass case is something called an integrated circuit, commonly made of silicon that holds encoded information, usually a string of numbers. These numbers are registered with a company or government information system and stored. If the number needs to be retrieved, a scanner reads the numbers that can be matched with the database they are stored in.

While pets and other livestock have been carrying microchips for quite some time, using RFID for horses has been a little slower to take off. Back in 2007, the United States Department of Agriculture approved a microchip implant for tracking equines with the National Animal Identification System. The NAIS is a system for tracking and identifying animals in case of a disease outbreak. The approved microchip is encoded with a fifteen digit number that includes a country code and breed code. Registering horses and ponies with the NAIS is optional, however.

These codes, along with owner information can be used to track reportable diseases more easily, and to ID a horse in case of theft or loss. But, it’s exciting that newer technology could make the RFID more useful and attractive to horse owners. Only a small amount of information can be stored on the chip itself. But, linked with a database that is easily updated, a horse’s complete history could be stored.

The readers for microchips are often bulky handheld devices that must be held very close to the microchip itself to pick up the information. Newer technology means that the scanners can pick up information from further away. And the scanners themselves are smaller and much easier to use. One scanner, currently being promoted as a Kickstarter, is a small handheld device that connects to your smartphone. This eliminates the need to load the digital codes into a computer and allows for instant access to the information on the database.

This is very useful in places where horses are pastured in common grazing lands, or where many horses are pastured in one place, but handled by many other people. The benefit means that each horses information is easily accessed and could prevent someone catching and possible training or treating the wrong horse.

Of course, like anything, there are some downfalls with RFID. Chips can migrate within the animal. They are inserted into a horse’s neck, and usually stay there, but they can move around in the body or be expelled. They can also be removed. There is a very small chance of infection from the insertion site. And, there are reports of health risks like bleeding and tumors that may or may not be attributed with the chips. Not all scanners can read all chips. Companies that make the chips and scanners can and do go out of business.

But makers of the chips claim there are few incidents, compared with the thousands of animals, from fish to elephants that are microchipped. So if you're wondering what the horse in the next stall should have for supper, and whether its done that course of antibiotics it might be as simple as checking its chip and getting all its detail on your phone.
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