Traceability Expands

Proponents of electronic identification for cattle say the system is needed for rapid traceback of diseased animals.

Electronic ID ear tags implanted in animals in Lamar, Missouri. (Progressive Farmer image by Jim Patrico)

A year ago, a pilot project was announced to bring cattle traceability to Kansas. The program, CattleTrace, touted a public-private partnership aimed at development and testing of an infrastructure that could one day expand to a national scale.

The program, based out of Manhattan, continues to gain momentum installing readers and tags in not only Kansas but also partner organizations in Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. CattleTrace organizers are also in discussions with leaders in seven other states to extend the program. Those states include Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

The ultimate goal of CattleTrace is to build a national database to allow rapid traceback of a diseased animal. Initially, the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Livestock Association set a goal of tagging 55,000 calves in that state. At press time, the group notes it is close to that goal.


CattleTrace is evaluating read rates across locations. The read rate at livestock markets at press time was at 94%, at feedyards, 98%. These rates are expected to improve as the technology advances. The goal is to fine-tune the UHF (ultrahigh frequency) technology and determine if the data collected is adequate to meet the group's traceability goals.

Described as a third-party entity, CattleTrace is private and nonprofit. Only CattleTrace personnel have access to data collected. Tag readers are installed at cattle collection points capable of picking up and transmitting data, including animal identification numbers, GPS locations and date/time stamps. The program is hands-free and nearly maintenance-free. It tracks animals as they move from farms to sale barns, feedlots and, eventually, packing plants.

At the announcement of the pilot program last year, Brandon Depenbusch, vice president of cattle operations for Innovative Livestock Services, said the project is an opportunity "to develop a cattle disease traceability system on our terms. The capabilities of CattleTrace will enable us to do the right thing for animal health and biosecurity, and for the entire U.S. beef cattle industry."


After some experience with the system, Depenbusch recently compared it to the K-TAG system on the Kansas Turnpike. "If you have a K-TAG in your car, you just drive right on through the toll booth and don't have to stop. If you don't have a K-TAG, you have to go through the alternate booth; that slows me down and slows the speed of commerce.

"In the cattle industry, we can run multiple animals down an alleyway, a hundred at a time, and it catches all of those reads as the animals run through," he says, explaining CattleTrace. "Each pass sends a signal that places each animal at a given point in the production cycle. From that database in Manhattan [Kansas], officials who are granted access can respond within minutes to any report of suspected animal disease."

USDA Timetable for Electronic Ear Tags:

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

The agency reports it 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 will not be able to use the metal ear tags for any type of official identification beginning Jan. 1, 2021. Instead, they will be required to use official radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

Final implementation of the electronic traceability program begins Jan. 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, it will need to be retagged to move. Feeder cattle or animals moving directly to slaughter are not subject to the new RFID requirements. Also, 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 an RFID system would shorten this to hours. This would limit the number of animals exposed in an outbreak.

Animals affected by these specific RFID requirements will include beef cattle and bison that are sexually intact and 18 months of age and older; used for rodeo or other recreational events, regardless of age; and used for shows or exhibitions. On the dairy side, those animals affected by the change include all female dairy cattle and 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 will 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.


> Premises Identification Numbers:

> CattleTrace System:


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