RFID Software for Flock Management

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 RFID ear tags and tag readers
RFID (radio frequency identification) ear tags, tag readers and electronic technology makes data collection fast and accurate. To get those benefits the electronic number (EID) stored inside each RFID ear tag must be scanned by a tag reader. The data collected must them be transferred to a computer. The software on the computer then turns electronic data into animal records you can use to make management decisions. For example, weights and weigh dates can be used to calculate rate of gain for individual lambs, then the software can then rank those lambs according to growth rate which can be used to help evaluate the lambs' sires and dams. Having some way to collect data on lambs that helps evaluate the ewes in the flock or the sires of the lambs enables informed selection and culling decisions. Software analyzes data to make comparisons possible, between different years, or different breed-types, or different groups within a flock, or even on management factors like feeding. For example, computer software could calculate the average weaning weight and feed cost of a pen of lambs from ewes being fed one type of feed and compare it to another group of lambs from ewes on a different feed.

EID and RFID are not exactly the same thing. EID is an animal's unique number in a format that a computer can understand. There is a numbering system used in Canadian lamb RFID tags where each lamb's identification number is completely unique in the world. RFID is the technology for sending the EID numbers over the air waves. For more information about RFID technology read Understanding RFID Systems and Understanding RFID Technology.

RFID software
Flock management software is the 'brain' of electronic management systems. There are different kinds of flock management software. Some are promoted as being compatible with electronic technology systems and traceability programs. All will assist in managing the whole flock. What many are unable to do is to record, track, report and manage uniquely identified individual animals in the flock. In Canada the goal of traceability systems has been to develop the ability to track individual food animals from birth to consumer.

True "RFID" software (based on RFID tag) has a main software program installed on the farm computer, with an auxiliary program installed on a handheld data recorder with a built-in tag reader. The handheld device scans each RFID tag to read the EID number. Additional data can be entered via the keyboard or by a Bluetooth link to a weigh scale. Information about births, deaths, breeding, treatments, weights, movements, etc are collected out in the barn by the handheld recorder, then downloaded to the main computer program in the office. Computer software stores and organizes the data and can analyze the data to generate reports useful for flock management. Top performing software programs provide an auditable trail that meets traceability, flock health and food safety program requirements. For example, every time a RFID ear tag is scanned a record is stored so that movements could be verified in the event of a trace-back. Data can be edited but not removed completely. Medical treatments recorded with drug type, dose and lot/batch numbers, and drug withdrawal periods are calculated by the software so treated animals can be safely shipped for slaughter.

Some flock management software programs simply allow an EID number to be one of the identifiers of an animal. There is no auxiliary software program on a handheld device, stick reader or scale. RFID tags may be scanned by a basic tag reader then the EID numbers imported into the software program in a spreadsheet, such as MS Excel. The EID numbers can also be typed into the computer manually. This is the type of program usually included when you purchase a stick reader or weigh scale. These programs will allow some data to be imported electronically in a spreadsheet format, like a list of EID numbers, weights, etc, This spreadsheet is a bridge for transferring data between incompatible electronics. For example a stick reader or scale head can export a list of numbers or weights into MS Excel, then the list can be imported into a flock management software program. Reducing the number of times data is moved can save time and prevent errors.

Before you start shopping
Flock management software should track inventory, record events, individual and groups of animals, animal performance data, and be able to generate reports for analysis. The RFID component should provide traceability benefits as well as improve the speed and accuracy of data collection. Here are some points to consider before you start shopping:
- Be realistic about your own ability and interest in technology before you shop for electronic record-keeping options. If you have limited experience or do not enjoy technology then look for software with as few steps as possible between collecting data in the barn and seeing the results on your computer.
- Look for software with clear instructions with illustrations you don't want to have to guess what a term means or what the next step is. Many software companies now have tutorials or a demonstration program on their websites. Try it before you buy. Be there is a contact for 'support'. If there is a maintenance or support agreement it is well worth purchasing.
- Software that depends on data coming in on spreadsheets (from a stick reader or scale head) requires you to have some proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Are you willing to learn that program in addition to the flock management program?
- Buy the flock management software program first, then look for compatible RFID tools for data collection. Don't buy the RFID tools (tag reader or electronic scale) and then try to find a software program that will accept data from them. Just because advertising says a reader is compatible with a specific type of tag doesn't mean the reader will automatically work with flock management software.
- Lack of compatibility between different brands of equipment, electronic or RFID tools, is a challenge. Different manufacturers are not motivated to make their equipment work with another manufacturer's. Additionally no manufacturer can provide technical support if you have assembled a collection of software and equipment that wasn't built to be compatible. Assume different brands of equipment are incompatible until you are shown a demonstration that proves they work together!

How to evaluate software
Compare different brands of software on standard functions that you would expect a paper-based record system to have. In evaluating software Minimum is used to refer to the lowest level of function that would be useful; the basic features necessary to be considered a flock management software program. Bonus is used to refer to features over and above the basics; these are the functions that add value to a flock management software program.

Functionality - does it do what you need it to do?
Information and animal details can be entered directly into the program regardless of whether there is a handheld component:
  • Record of births:
    Minimum: lamb's tag numbers, EID, dam's tag number, date of birth
    Bonus: sire's tag number, foster information, lambing difficulty
  • Record of deaths:
    Minimum: animal's tag numbers, EID, date of death
    Bonus: cause of death, age at death, disposal of carcass, uploading RFID tag from deadstock to database
  • Record of breeding so lamb parentage is known:
    Minimum: ram's tag number, ewe's tag number, start date of rams in for breeding
    Bonus: date of rams' removal from breeding group, pregnancy scanning results
  • Record of sales and purchases, slaughter data:
    Minimum: animal's tag numbers, EID, date of sale/slaughter, buyer/seller, live weight, premises identification (PID#) number of seller and buyer
    Bonus: price received, carcass weight
  • Record of animal movements off the farm:
    Minimum: animal's tag numbers, EID, date of movement, destination, seller/buyer PID#, trucker information
    Bonus: truck/trailer vehicle information number (VIN#), license plate, time of pick-up
  • Collect and display individual animal details - breed, sex, age, weights, pedigrees:
    Minimum: animal's tag numbers, EID, breed, sex, birthdate, dam, sire if known
    Bonus: birth type (single, twin, triplet, etc.), purebred registration number
  • Record of medical treatments:
    Minimum: animal's tag numbers, EID, treatment date, medicine, dose, reason for treatment
    Bonus: medicine batch number, drug withdrawal date
  • Record of weights:
    Minimum: animal's tag numbers, EID, new weight, last previous weight
    Bonus: weight gain, average daily gain since last previous weight

Samples of data collection screens (click to enlarge)


All software must produce reports that are useful for making management decisions. The following are attributes of a report that make it practical for the user to find the information that is most relevant:
  • Able to filter the database to find the exact animals needed for a specific report:
    Minimum: filter by - animal tag numbers, by sex, by breed, by birth year
    Bonus: tag search option, filter by - location, management group, age, by current or dead/sold status
  • Able to filter the database to find the exact information needed for a specific report:
    Minimum: filter by - age range, date range, weight range
    Bonus: filter by - price range, number of lambs, daily weight gain, cause of death
  • Able to sort the animals in the report into a certain order (highest to lowest, most to least, etc.):
    Minimum: sort by tag numbers, age, weights
    Bonus: sort by weight gain, litter size
  • Reports should do calculations for both individual animals and groups:
    Minimum: count of animals, lambing percentage, average weight, daily weight gain, average weight gain.
    Bonus: carcass dressing percent, price per lb, adjusted 50-day weights, adjusted 100-day weights,
  • Able to print, save or export to other programs and in other formats (csv, text, spreadsheet, etc.):
    Minimum: export report to printer, preview report before printing, save report as text
    Bonus: export to MS Excel, PDF, Rich Text Format

Samples of report screens (click to enlarge)

Slaughter Report
Weight Gain Report
Lambing Report
Treatment Report
Drug Withdrawal Report

Usability - is it easy to learn and easy to use?
  • Intuitive: Terms should be simple and processes should be logical - the user should be able to proceed without needing much instruction:
    Minimum: standard Windows commands, clearly labelled buttons and data fields, printed user manual
    Bonus: built-in Help module, on-line user manual, tutorials
  • Efficient: Data entry should take a minimal number of keystrokes:
    Minimum: Enter button or Tab key moves cursor from field to field in logical order, mistakes are easy to fix
    Bonus: drop-down menus for fast selection, pop-up calendars
  • Flexible: Every farm is unique - software should accommodate user preferences:
    Minimum: able to - name management groups, add breeds, customize animal numbering
    Bonus: customize reports, select columns to view
Reliable - is it stable, not prone to crashing or losing data?
Program should not crash, freeze up or require re-booting. Occasional glitches are expected in software development but programs should be thoroughly field tested before being released.

Technology - (handheld recorder/ EID component) - is it an asset for the user?
The markets for electronic technology systems has grown and there are more choices available. Some manufacturers have also been working on improving the robustness of their equipment. Electronics may not be particularly compatible with the real worlds of a lambing barn, or a feed truck. Technology must reliably work under normal conditions. Talk to other producers. Talk to the distributor about support, replacement and warranties.

  • Data entry should be easy, with minimal number of taps or keystrokes required:
    Minimum: large icons and text, large touch pads, screen has a backlight for easy reading in poor light.
    Bonus: multiple entries possible with minimal opening and closing of screens, re-entering details or having to key Save between entries
  • Besides reading RFID tags, the handheld recorder should be a portable note book capable of recording animal information:
    Minimum: record births, deaths, weights, treatments, animal movements on and off the farm
    Bonus: record breeding, fostering, groups, pregnancy test results, sales, purchases
Samples of screens from a handheld data recorder (click to enlarge)


  • Besides reading RFID tags, the handheld recorder should be a portable note book capable of displaying animal information:
    Minimum: show tag number, sex, breed and age, previous weights
    Bonus: show sire and dam, progeny, comments, drug withdrawal
Samples of animal history screens on the data recorder (click to enlarge)

Animal details
Health history
Weight history
Lambing history

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This document is maintained by Stacey Tames.
This information published to the web on February 6, 2013.
Last Reviewed/Revised on February 20, 2013.