USDA Timetable on Ear Tags

Three Years to a Traceability Milestone

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
RFID ear tags are becoming more common across the country, but a new timetable by the USDA sets a deadline for their adoption. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Becky Mills)

Starting December 31st of this year, cattle producers will see changes in how the USDA handles ear tags for cattle.

At this point, the agency says they will no longer provide metal ear tags for use on cattle. Producers will be able to buy these metal tags on a state-by-state basis through the end of 2020.

Accredited veterinarians and/or producers, however, will not be able to use the metal ear tags for any type of official identification beginning January 1, 2021. Instead they will be required to use official radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

Final implementation of the electronic traceability program begins January 1, 2023, when RFID ear tags will be required for beef cattle, dairy cattle and bison moving interstate. If an animal has a metal tag, they will need to be retagged to move. Feeder cattle, or animals moving directly to slaughter, are not subject to the new RFID requirements. In addition, brands and tattoos may still be acceptable identification--if the shipping and receiving state or tribal animal health authorities agree to accept these in lieu of the RFID.

The USDA reports the changeover will greatly improve the abilities of health officials to quickly locate specific animals in the event of a disease outbreak. Where it could take weeks or months under the paper records system to find an animal, the agency believes a RFID system would shorten this to hours. This would limit the number of animals exposed to an outbreak.

Animals effected by these specific RFID requirements will include beef cattle and bison: (1) that are sexually intact and 18 months of age and older; (3) used for rodeo or other recreational events, regardless of age; and (4) used for shows or exhibitions. On the dairy side, those animals effected by the change include: (1) all female dairy cattle; and (2) all male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013.

RFID tags will be applied at birth, or prior to moving the animal off the farm (interstate). The tags can be low or ultrahigh frequency—based on current state or industry requirements. The tags used must be USDA approved, tamper proof, have a unique ID and display the official U.S. ear tag shield.

As the transition takes place, the USDA reports it will work with state animal health officials to share the cost of official RFID tags. It is unknown at this point what cost producers would ultimately be responsible for. Funding to support electronic readers for markets and accredited veterinarians will be provided by USDA and state partners, according to the agency.

To acquire an RFID tag, producers need a premises identification number. This can be obtained through state agencies. To find one in your area, or to learn more about the program go to:…

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Victoria Myers