Electronic Cow Tag

This electronic cow tag comes from the Cleburne Jersey Farm in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Developed at Cornell University and manufactured by Alfa-Laval, the tag is an RFID transponder that hangs around the animal’s neck. RFID stands for “radio frequency identification.” When the animal is in range of a reader, an antenna in the reader transmits a radio signal to activate the RFID chip. The chip then sends back a signal containing the animal’s identification number. The reader can relay the information to a computer that tracks each animal. Farmers and ranchers use tags to monitor a number of indicators, including medication dosage, feed output, weight, and milk production.
Historically, farmers and ranchers have used a variety of methods to track their livestock, including branding, ear marking, and visual tags. The introduction of electronic tags in the 1970s provided owners with an entirely new level of technical sophistication. When attached to other sensors, RFID chips can store additional data. For example, temperature readings indicate if an animal is sick or ovulating. Some models are “active” transponders. They broadcast a signal instead of waiting for a scanner to activate them. These chips can transmit an alert as soon as an animal’s temperature is too high or even if it is giving birth. Owners generally use electronic tags in conjunction with another mark, such as a visual tag, that allows them to identify animals on sight.
Created in the 1970s, electronic cow tags were an early civilian use of RFID. As with many inventions, the military was the first to develop the technology. During World War II, the British invented “Identify Friend or Foe” (IFF) radio transponders. On its own, radar could not distinguish between friendly and enemy aircraft. The IFF transponders transmitted radio signals that identified the aircraft as friendly. After the war, scientists worldwide started exploring civilian application for radio frequency technology. At the beginning of the 21st century, RFID systems are found in a wide variety of businesses and public services, including agriculture, manufacturing, logistics, security, and medicine.
Currently not on view
Object Name
tag computer
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
blue (overall color)
overall: 4 in x 3 in x 7/8 in; 10.16 cm x 7.62 cm x 2.2225 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
American Enterprise
See more items in
Work and Industry: Agriculture
American Enterprise
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Patrick M. Campbell

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.