Moo IT: From cow chips to RFID chips

It was more two decades ago, during a visit to my cousins' dairy farm in rural Maine, that I first saw ID tags in action. Before anyone was talking about RFID - before there was an ISO standard for radio frequency tags - dairy farmers were already making use of sensor technology. They were the early adopters. I was fascinated.

That experience was the genesis for the Moo IT story that went online this week.

The early ID system that the farm used consisted of big, clunky collar-mounted tags that worked in conjunction with readers mounted at each feed station. Those readers were networked back to an office computer. The system could identify each cow, when it ate, and how much feed was dispensed to her. Since a change in eating habits can affect milk output - and be an indicator of health issues - the system had the potential to increase overall milk production throughout each cow's cycle. The system produced regular trending reports and issued alerts when an animal's activity fell outside the normal range.

Since my visit to the farm in the late '80s, both the radio frequency tag systems and the application of the technology have evolved. And a surprising number of other technologies are also starting to make their way onto dairy farms, including Wi-Fi, biometric sensors and even Bluetooth.

At more than $100 per tag, those early ID tag systems were expensive, which limited their use. Now, with RFID tag prices as low as $2.50, farms are adopting the technology at an accelerating pace - and it's shaking up the industry by lowering barriers to entry for new players.

It's a fascinating story, and a fascinating look at the business issues dairy farms face and which technologies are gaining mainstream acceptance.

So do give the story a read. I welcome your comments. And be sure to check out the image gallery.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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