Choosing an EID tag reader and software
Choosing an EID tag reader
Owning a handheld or panel electronic identification (EID) reader means producers can scan EID tags of sheep on their property. This gives them the potential to store and analyse data, and use it to:
- improve flock management
- apply individual animal management
When used in conjunction with many of the farm management software packages now available, this can be a powerful tool in decision making and business development.
EID readers can be either:
The type of reader that you buy will depend on your needs.
There are a range of styles of handheld readers.
- simple readers that read a tag and send the information wirelessly to another device, such as weigh scales or a computer
- readers that display information about the animal on a built-in screen
Example of handheld reader use
You can achieve a lot with a simple low-cost handheld reader.
- Pregnancy scan all ewes and draft them into their various pregnancy status mobs.
- Read the tag of each ewe in the singles mob and call the file 'singles'. Then start a new file and call it 'twins' and read all of the tags in the twin mob. You now have pregnancy status recorded for that year against those ewes.
- Match to other years' pregnancy status and you can walk down the race before joining and read the tags of each ewe, displaying her pregnancy history over multiple years.
- Use this information in real time to allocate ewes to particular joining groups or, if it is a tough season, to remove those that have been consistently underperforming.
In some cases your pregnancy scanning contractor is equipped to record the individual pregnancy status for your ewes. In this case, all you need to do is collate that data with previous years, and load it onto your reader.
Read range for handheld readers
Handheld readers have a read range of between 20cm to 40cm 360 degrees from the tip of the wand. This, combined with the length of the reader itself (up to 60cm) allows you to scan sheep in yards without getting too close to the animals.
Using a handheld reader
For most readers, using the reader is simply a matter of pressing the read button when the tag is in the read range. Most readers come equipped with an audible beeper, light or vibration, which will be activated when a successful read occurs.
Note: Using the readers to even gently hit animals can damage the reader.
Downloading data from handheld readers
Once you've completed a scanning session, you can download the data to a computer, scale indicator or palm using companion programs that are provided with the device. In some cases, this process can also be conducted using Microsoft Excel.
Once the EID numbers have been downloaded, they can be used as the animals primary identification, or may be cross referenced against existing herd management numbers. This allows you to easily identify each animal when they are scanned in the future. Handheld readers can also be integrated with weighing systems to further improve herd management.
As with handheld systems, there a wide range of panel readers available. The type of panel reader that you purchase depends on individual business requirements. Panel readers are particularly useful when you have large numbers of stock.
Read range for panel readers
Panel readers have a read range of between 55cm and 150cm, which extends 360 degrees from the panel. Because panel readers are multi-directional, make sure when you install it that it will scan only the tags of the sheep you want to have scanned.
While panel readers cannot be made to read in one direction only, you can adjust the distance they read.
Most panel readers come equipped with an audible beeper or light which will be activated when a tag is successfully read.
Panel mounting and installation
Panels emit an electronic signal to read the NLIS tags, so metal might interfere with the signal and prevent tags from being read accurately.
For the panel to work correctly, they must be properly installed. Check with the supplier about mounting requirements.
Downloading data from panel readers
Most panel readers don't come with any means of number storage, so they must be integrated with a scale indicator, computer or palm to download and retain the electronic ID number of any scanned animals.
Choosing the right EID software
The right electronic identification (EID) software can be a powerful tool for a wool or lamb producer. It provides the ability to gather and store data, then generate reports from that data to assist with decision making and streamlining on-farm operations.
There are a range of software options available to producers to help improve their farming operations. Knowing your needs, and understanding the various equipment components will ensure that your system is efficient and cost effective.
Think about your individual needs
Before you purchase any farming software, think about:
- the information you want to collect
- if and how you'll use that information in your operation
What data should you collect?
With an EID system using electronic NLIS (sheep) tags you can record anything that can be measured objectively or subjectively. But there are four key points to help you decide what to record for your sheep enterprise:
- Only record data that will add value to the enterprise.
- Always keep data collection tasks as simple as possible.
- There is no point in collecting data unless you will actually use it.
- The more data you collect, the harder it is to manage.
Think about whether the software suits your needs
To summarise your software package requirements, answer the following questions about your enterprise and how you work:
- What decisions do you make in your enterprise, why and where? (For example, in-yard decisions versus in-office decisions.)
- Based on your key decisions, what information do you need from the software?
- Is the software able to capture and report on the data you need to get this information and make the decisions crucial to your business?
- What do your reports need to look like for you to get this data and interpret the information? Does the system you're considering give you the data reports you need?
To assess whether the software package will fit your needs, you must also consider:
- how easy the data is to input
- the method of data entry (is it manual and EID compatible?)
- how easy it is to generate reports
- if the program is formatted to suit your information and enterprise
- if the program is compatible with other software, hardware and equipment that you're currently using or considering purchasing
- if the software will allow you to easily share information with organisations that you currently work with (such as LAMBPLAN, NLIS database or quality assurance programs)
- if you're comfortable using the program
- if you'll use it regularly — for many producers, it's a better investment to employ a contractor for major or irregular tasks instead of purchasing equipment outright
Try before you buy
Test software thoroughly before you buy it to make sure that it will meet your needs and is a program that you are comfortable using. Check the software company's website to see if there's a demo copy available to download, or contact them to request one.
Software packages are only as powerful as the accuracy of the information that has been inputted into the system — incorrect or missing information will result in an incorrect analysis.
While the initial software setup might take some time to use the package to its full potential, once this is done, the right software package can impact significantly on your business and help clarify some of those difficult on-farm decisions.
EID isn't about owning lots of fancy toys
In fact you don't have to own any equipment at all. Contractors can undertake all of the major tasks on farm, eliminating the need to own, and understand any equipment. Some producers are already doing this. The only difference to the work that they undertake themselves is applying electronic NLIS (sheep) tags at marking.
EID doesn't have to be expensive
The amount you spend on your EID system will depend entirely on your desired outcomes, your enterprise type, enterprise size and need for efficient operations. No EID system has to be expensive. Know what you want and need from EID and only spend the money needed to achieve these outcomes.
Remember, EID isn't auto-drafters
Auto-drafters aren't EID, and are not always necessary. Almost anything can be achieved with a handheld reader and a manual weigh crate.
Auto-drafters simply make some jobs quicker and more labour efficient.