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Using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to help track horses' movement and interactionsMarch 2017

Story: Sydney Pearce

Horses and barn workers are constantly interacting with each other. However, little is known about horse contact patterns and how contact patterns might contribute to disease spread.

U of G researchers are conducting an on-farm study using small (about the size of a toonie), lightweight, and non-invasive RFID tags, to document contact patterns in horse barns. This will help them to compare contact patterns within and between horse farms.

They're seeking participants who own horses or work at horse farms, to take part in their study. “This pioneering research can set the path for future veterinary research in this field, as this technology has done for human research,“ says doctoral student Rachael Milwid, who is conducting the study with her supervisors Prof. Amy Greer and Prof. Terri O'Sullivan, in the Ontario Veterinary College's Department of Population Medicine.

They're collecting data at racehorse facilities, and sport (non-racing) facilities. Their goal is to learn about the contact patterns in each type of facility, and determine how the facilities compare.

horse with a RFID tagRFID tags will be attached to the halters of horses, and worn as lanyards on barn staff, to measure and track contacts. When two tags are close together, the tags record who they came in contact with and for how long. This data is used to create contact network diagrams showing which horses and staff came in contact on each day of the study.

From that data, Milwid, Greer and O'Sullivan will be able to quantify contact patterns within different horse barns. “A lot of studies make simplifying assumptions about the way in which animals contact one another which are unrealistic,“ says Greer. “The RFID tools we have developed for this project provide a unique, cheap, easy to use system to measure contacts between horses and horses and people in real-time. There are many areas of veterinary research where these tools could be used to collect more detailed contact pattern data.“

The study is non-invasive for horses and staff. To participate.

Funding for this project comes from the OMAFRA-U of G Partnership.