What is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)?

RFID, also known as electronic identification (EID), is an automatic identification and data-capture system comprised of readers and transponders; tags, boluses or microchips. These transponders, when read at a specific radio frequency, emit a signal containing a unique electronic identification number.  In this way, RFID provides the ability to quickly, efficiently, and accurately identify livestock.


Most RFID tags used in the livestock industry are low-frequency tags that are read at a radio frequency of 134.2 kHz (kilohertz). They have no internal power source and instead are powered by the electromagnetic energy transmitted from the RFID reader.  As such, they are ‘passive’ – they do not broadcast their own signal and need to be in close proximity to the reader to transmit.

In the beef industry, the tags contain a 15- digit alpha-numeric (numbers and letters) code called the Animal Identification Number (AIN). This 15-digit AIN is also printed on the outside of the tag. No additional animal information can be stored on an RFID tag.

RFID Reader

The tag reader (also called a scanner or interrogator) is a data capture and identification device that uses a radio frequency electromagnetic field to stimulate a data response from a transponder. A tag reader can be fixed, such as a panel reader attached in an alleyway or a crush, or mobile. Mobile readers are often referred to as stick readers or handheld readers. Any mobile reader that is Bluetooth enabled can be used in conjunction with RippleNami’s rCAPTURE mobile application to record new information about an animal and submit it to Kenya’s Livestock Identification and Traceability System (LITS).

ISO 11784 and ISO 11785 are international standards that regulate the radio-frequency identification of animals. When purchasing a reader it is important to make sure that it is compliant with these standards, so you are able to read any and all ISO tags.


In Kenya, applying an RFID identification device to livestock and registering the AIN into LITS is important to ascertain the origin and ownership and to facilitate record keeping. Livestock identification strengthens on-farm management, aids in the regulation of animal movement, and supports animal disease control. The procedure of tagging livestock is carried out at farms, at designated crush sites during mass branding activities, at primary markets, and at secondary markets.

Livestock identification devices are usually applied to livestock by a veterinary surgeon or paraprofessional. A livestock owner, if suitably proficient, may apply the livestock identification devices to their animals provided that the County Director of Veterinary Services shall verify, within thirty days, that the livestock identification devices were correctly applied.

Procedure for Application of Ear Tags

Equipment Needed:
  1. Ear tag applicators
  2. Ear tags
  3. Crush or chute
  4. Disinfectant
  5. First aid kit
  6. Nose restrainers
  7. RFID reader
  8. The rCAPTURE mobile application, or paper registers

Ensure that all equipment and tags are in place and in good working condition. If many animals are being tagged and registered at one time, the Team Leader will assign roles for data recording, tag application, and animal restrainers.

Ear Tagging

Step 1: Restrain animal(s) in the crush, or a chute with a head-gate

Before an ear tag can be applied the animal must be caught and restrained to limit head movement and ensure accurate tag position.

Step 2: Clean the applicator and tags to decrease the risk of infection

For the wellbeing of the livestock, it’s important that all materials that come into contact with the ear be properly sterilized beforehand. Wipe down the pin (male) and clip (female) components of the tag with rubbing alcohol or a disinfecting solution. This will help eliminate any bacteria present.

You can also swab the inner and outer surfaces of the ear using a cloth or cotton ball soaked in alcohol for added protection. Take care not to let any of the solution drip into the ear canal itself.

Be sure to clean the applicator thoroughly before and after use.

Step 3: Ensure the correct placement of male and female tags on the applicator

Before attempting to place a tag, make sure that the applicator’s pin and the clamp are not bent, broken, and that they are aligned. Proper alignment is important to ensure interlocking of the tag pieces. Check the alignment by clamping together;  the pin should slide easily into the clamp.

The female (EID) portion of the tag where the number is written should slide smoothly into the applicator clip. Then the stud, with a sharp point on one side, should go onto the pin. After making sure that everything is aligned and placed properly, application of the tag can begin.

Placement of male and female tags on the applicator
Step 4: Apply the tag on the left ear

Location is very important; if placed incorrectly, a tag could potentially cause problems.

For Cattle: The location should be between the rises in auricular cartilage or the ribs, near the first third of the ear (closest to the head). If a tag is placed too far towards the inside of the ear it will fit too tightly due to the presence of thicker cartilage. Tags placed too far to the outside of the ear will have the possibility to be snagged or ripped out. Proper tag placement will also reduce the risk of infection. The female (EID) portion of the tag should be on the inside of the ear.

Cattle EID Placement

For Sheep and Meat Goats

Place the EID tag in between the cartilage ribs of the ear, near the first third of the ear (closest to the head). The female EID portion of the tag should be placed on the inside of the ear.

Sheep and Meat Goats EID Placement

Clean the tagging site of any debris to ensure that infection does not arise. The applicator should then be placed over the tagging site with the stud to the back of the ear and the button to the front. Squeeze the trigger quickly and firmly. There will be a click as the stud and button clip together. Remove the applicator and ensure that the stud and button are interlocked. Once the tag has been inspected to ensure that it is placed correctly and securely, the tag application is completed.

Step 5: Enter the ear tag number and animal details into a register

If you are using the rCAPTURE mobile application to register the animal(s), select Registration from the home screen and the app will guide you through the process:

Confirm identification of the animal owner and verify their identity by their National ID Number or the tax ID Number for corporate animal owners. Look up and select the animal owner with the app, and the premises/place the animals will reside. If the owner or place isn’t found, you can register them with the app after you have properly verified ownership of the animals. Then, you register the animal(s).

Animals can be registered individually, or in bulk as a group. For group registrations, the animals must be the same breed, sex and colour (and have the same brandmark, if applicable), so consider this as you herd your animals into the crush or chute.

Tap the Scan Electronic ID(s) field. When you see the flashing cursor, and you are ready to scan the tags with your Bluetooth connected RFID reader. The EID number(s) will populate in rCAPTURE. For Group scans, each ID number will be separated by a | (pipe character). This pipe character tells the database to save each ID as a separate animal, and will look like this:

Complete the rest of the animal information, and hit submit.

Step 6. Upload the ear tag number and animal details into the LITS database

With rCAPTURE, you can perform all of your registrations without any cellular or Wi-Fi connection. When coverage is available, the captured information will flow in real-time from RippleNami’s rCAPTURE mobile app to the LITS central database, where the details of the registered animals can be viewed.

All content on the rCAPTURE mobile app is synced with the database at pre-defined synchronization intervals that occur in the background when the app is running.

These intervals are:

  • At user login on the app (or auto-login if using the “Remember Logins” option)
  • On the app’s return to foreground from being in the background on the device
  • When the user hits the Upload button in a form, completing it
  • When the user manually hits the ‘Force Sync’ button, found on the Settings Screen of the app.

The ‘Force Sync’ button is purely there for manual checking, it is not required for synchronization to occur.

Procedure for Application of Boluses

A ruminal EID bolus is implanted orally using a bolus applicator or bolus gun, and settles in the rumen (second stomach) of the animal. They have a glass microchip encased in ceramic. They are available in two sizes – 74 grams (cattle) and 20 grams (sheep and goats).

Ruminants have three pre-stomachs before the true stomach (abomasum). These pockets – the rumen, the reticulum and the omasum, enable these animals to digest the fibers of the forages.

The rumen is the pocket in which bacteria grow. This is where the food is broken down chemically and mechanically into small particles. This compartment acts as a kind of valve which links rumen with the rest of the digestive tract, and only small, suspended particles can pass through. The shape of the bolus is therefore designed to the advantage of ruminants’ specific anatomy, with retention rates greater than 99%.

  • They can be used as a deterrent for theft as they cannot be removed (internal) and are less prone to tampering than (external) tags.
  • The retention rate is very good
  • Handheld readers may not pick up a bolus in the rumen as the read range for a handheld reader is generally between 20cm – 35cm.
  • Handheld readers will need to be placed underneath the animal to read the bolus

Applying the bolus:

Step 1: First check with a reader if the animal already has a bolus

Before you apply an RFID bolus, you want to be certain one has not already been applied. Then check the readability of new bolus which should be at least 3 m from another bolus.

The animal should be able to stand and must have the ability to swallow before administering anything orally.

Step 2: Insert the bolus in the applicator

Insert the bolus into the applicator flat end first, so that the round end comes out of the applicator when dispensing it.

Step 3: Restrain animal, with the head being held higher than the body and insert the bolus

Use proper restraint of animals to prevent injury to persons and animals.

Insert the applicator into the animal’s mouth and gently advance it just past the base of the tongue. Using the hand you are controlling the animal’s head with, raise the head so that the applicator is in a slightly downward direction. Gently advance the plunger to dispense the bolus, allowing the animal to swallow it. Gently withdraw the applicator and lower the animal’s head.

Step 4: Enter the ear tag number and animal details into a register

Use the rCAPTURE mobile application to register the animal(s), select Bolus as the ID Type, and upload the information into the LITS database.