If you farm livestock, record-keeping of animal performance is an important task. It’s the first step towards overall herd management. It’s hard to manage what you don’t know. For most livestock, there are also traceability requirements. Tracking your animals can be as complex as you want it to be. I will be omitting the exact traceability requirements but if you want to look into those aspects further, here are some resources:
- PigTRACE (swine industry)
- proAction (dairy cattle industry)
- Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) (cattle and sheep)
- Agri-Traçabilité Québec (ATQ) (Quebec cattle and sheep)
For traceability, the requirements will vary a bit by province but in general, your livestock needs a government-approved (CFIA) ear tag when it leaves your property. Your farm also needs a premise identification number, which you can find by province on this list (Quebec farmers need to contact the ATQ). At the moment, hogs, sheep, cattle, bison and deer need tags. Goats will need tags soon (timeline currently unavailable). You should be tracking the movement of your livestock by their tag number. You can find the full list of tag requirements on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) website.
Why keep livestock records?
Aside from the government regulations requiring you to keep track of your livestock, you should also have an animal identification system to gain insight in your farm’s productivity. Ideally each animal will have two copies of their identification number, one for each ear in case they rip one out (it happens). You can use the CFIA RFID tags as their identification, or have your own numbering. Having identification will let you:
- Track births and performance
- Record pregnancy scan results, vaccinations, medication and other treatments
- Provide shipping manifests to the sales barn
- Keep track of pedigrees and bloodlines
- Make decisions about culling, breeding and growth rates
Reading tags can be as complicated or simple as you want it. While many farms still have their own tagging systems as you can purchase a wide range of colors, sizes and numbering systems, my preference is to use RFID tags.
You can find a long list of RFID readers available on the CCIA website, in the form of this PDF. The ATQ has a similar list. I have put together a shortlist of the most commonly available RFID readers. With the increase in traceability requirements, having a fast way to read tags is very helpful. Using the CFIA RFID tags can also reduce confusion when you are trying to lookup an animal’s records. Having a reader is handy as you don’t have to clean off tags or even hold the animal to get their ID. Before choosing a reader, also consider what kind of herd management system you want to use.
- Tags4All – Makes this basic tag reader that is affordable ($350) and easy to use. Make sure it has Bluetooth as it will connect to an Android app (V8 Pet ID) which exports to Excel/Google Sheets.
- Gallagher SmartReader system – Connects to the Gallagher scales and management programs
- Allflex Stick Readers – connects to a number of management software options and apps.
- Syscan Livetrack – Approved ATQ scanner option
- EweManage C-One 2 Android mobile (sheep only)
There are so many software options out there for herd management. There are apps for your phone, online databases and desktop software. You always have the option of using a notebook, however, this can be complicated when you grow your livestock herd beyond a dozen or two. Spreadsheets in Excel/Google Sheets can provide you with the full flexibility that a notebook gives but it can add new lines as you add and change what you are tracking. Once you get beyond the spreadsheet, there’s a lot of software out there.
If you are using just the CFIA tags, there is the Canadian Livestock Tracking System which will track birthdates and inventory for you as well as meeting the minimum traceability requirements. They have a desktop and a mobile option called CLTS MOBO. Quebec offers a similar option using SimpliTRACE. If all you want is basic inventory tracking, these free options and a spreadsheet work really well.
For my operation, I use Go360 bioTrack from AgSights. As a Canadian company, they have all the entry space for the CFIA RFID tags. They work on a module basis, so you can add various options as you grow your operation. They have offerings for sheep, beef, and goats. The interface is so easy to use and it works from the Chrome browser so I don’t have to worry if my laptop gets the blue screen of death. All of the custom reports are very easy to work with. Their support team is fabulous, whenever I have a concern, they’re happy to help.
For sheep, there is also EweManage, a popular option also designed in Canada, with good support. Ewe Byte is another herd management product. These are all subscription options. Shearwell tags are really common in sheep, and Shearwell also offers a herd management option. SIGA has goat and sheep options as well, they are based out of Quebec.
Gallagher has herd management software that can communicate with all of the Gallagher products. Their system (Animal Performance Software) will track entry date, birth dates, weights, treatments, etc and by connecting with other Gallagher products, it will collect the information for you. This system works well for sheep, meat goats and cattle. It often comes free with their tag readers.
For beef producers, there are a number of options including Go360 bioTrack and the Gallagher system, both mentioned before. There is a free offering from an American company, Cattle360. CattleMAX is another option that includes Canadian support.
In short, if you have livestock, that livestock should have identification tags and you should be tracking their productivity. Using RFID technology and a basic tag reader can make life really simple as you don’t have to wrestle with the animal to try and get the tag number. Just make sure your tag reader works for the herd management software option you end up picking.
For our sheep operation, we only use the ATQ-issued tags with RFID. We have a Tags4All reader that sends a list of tags to my phone in Excel. That Excel sheet also has all of the lambing information in it which gets uploaded with one click to Go360 bioTrack. I have tried to enter the information directly in the barn, but I grew up with lists on a clipboard and that is what I’m most comfortable with. The software has a mobile option so it can definitely be done. Once the data is in the system, its easy to make management decisions.