Livestock News

USDA will require most cattle to have electronic ear tags


Animal disease traceability helps animal health officials know where diseased and at-risk animals are, where they’ve been, and when. This information is essential during a disease outbreak. The USDA is currently working to strengthen its traceability system to protect the long-term health, marketability and economic viability of the U.S. livestock industry. To prepare for the transition to electronic ear tags, state ag departments are assisting producers with the change. 

The federal government will require most cattle to bear a radio frequency identification tag in the next few years, the Kentucky Office of the State Veterinarian announced. “By 2023, only RFID tags will be considered official identification,” State Veterinarian Robert C. Stout said. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture is requiring the RFID tags and phasing out metal tags to improve our ability to trace animal movement quickly and efficiently in the event of a livestock disease outbreak. A strong traceability system is absolutely essential to maintaining open overseas markets for Kentucky and U.S. cattle.”

Animals that will require official, individual RFID tags include:

  • Beef cattle and bison that are sexually intact and 18 months or older;
  • Beef cattle and bison used for rodeo or recreational events (regardless of age);
  • Beef cattle and bison used for shows or exhibitions;
  • All female dairy cattle; and
  • All male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013.

Cattle not being moved off the farm will not be required to have an RFID tag.

“We appreciate the Kentucky Department of Agriculture for being proactive in getting the word out about this important cattle identification transition,” said Dave Maples, executive director of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association. “The transition from metal to RFID tags will strengthen the traceability system by providing information faster and protecting our markets in the event of a disease outbreak.”

The timeline for completing the transition to RFID tags is as follows:

  • Dec. 31, 2019 — Free metal National Uniform Ear Tag System tags no longer will be provided by USDA and KDA. Producers and markets may purchase and apply metal tags in 2020.
  • Jan. 1, 2021 — USDA no longer will approve production or application of metal tags.
  • Jan. 1, 2023 — RFID ear tags will be required for beef and dairy cattle and bison moving interstate.

A premises identification number is required to purchase official ID tags. USDA has a new interactive map that helps direct producers to state-specific resources for obtaining a PIN. For more information, producers can check out the Advancing Animal Disease Traceability fact sheet here. 

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