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New Cattle Identification Requirements

Updated Rules for the USDA Animal Identification Plan

Advancing Animal Disease Traceability using Electronic Identification Devices


RFID Ear tags will be required as the only official animal id device in beef, dairy, and bison as of January 1st, 2023. Other USDA animal identification techniques (swine, goats, sheep, etc.) remain unchanged as of 5/13/19. However, producers in these industries should begin to see potential changes as early as Fall 2020.

What’s changing:

Any beef, dairy, or bison that are required to have an official identification will need to have an Electronic ID (can be called, EID, RFID, or Electronic tag) versus the previous metal tags. Only the type of tag is changing, no other parts of the animal identification rule are changing as of now.

What’s NOT changing:

No changes to any of the requirements regarding ages of cattle being tagged, direct to slaughter, or other species, as of now.

Electronic Identification Tags

EID Tags have a 15 digit identifying number that can be read if no RFID scanner is available.

Implementation Timeline for transition to RFID (radio frequency Identification) for Beef, Dairy, and Bison

December 31st, 2019

USDA will discontinue providing free metal tags.

Approved vendor tags will be available for purchase on a state-by-state basis as authorized by each state animal health official through December 31st, 2020.

January 1st, 2021

USDA will no longer approve production of metal ear tags. Metal ear tags can no longer be applied to an animal for official identification. RFID tags must be used as official identification for any newly tagged animals. (Animals without an RFID tag but that have a metal tag before Jan. 1st, 2021, will not need an RFID tag until Jan 1, 2023)

January 1st, 2023

ALL cattle (beef, dairy, & bison) required to have an official ID will have to have an RFID tag. Metal tags will no longer be accepted as a form of USDA official identification for any cattle.

What’s it going to cost me?

The USDA will no longer be offering free official cattle identification tags. Depending on quantity purchased, tags can range from $1.50-$2.00 each. Applicators are generally brand specific but most applicators can apply flap tags and RFID tags.

You will not need a wand to read the RFID tags, unless you see a benefit of this in your production system.

Reading electronic identification tags

Wands can be purchased to easily read the RFID tags, large facilities can also purchase additions to chutes that automatically read tags.

Why are they changing things?

Animal disease traceability is a high priority for one of America’s most long standing industries. Building a strong identification system is key to being able to track a disease outbreak, limit quarantine areas, and promote efficiency, this all results in a limited impact to the industry if something should occur. RFID leads to an increase in speed and efficiency for animal health officials.

More Resources – EID Factsheet – Traceability Final Rule – Traceability Facts  – Cattle identification & Aging

36 Comments on “New Cattle Identification Requirements

  1. I wonder if foreign beef will be required to this standard coming into our country.

    • Hi Mike! Imported beef is held to the same food safety standards that USA-grown beef is! Any imported meat, poultry, and egg (or really any food product) undergoes strict evaluation before being allowed in the country and must originate from a country, establishment, or plant that is already certified to export to the US, and the products are re-inspected at the port of entry. Live cattle travelling to the US must undergo strict quarantine periods to ensure they are free from disease, we even have restrictions on some countries that we do not allow live animals from due to their current disease status. Since the use of EID’s is for disease traceability it really is only important for live animal tracking, once an animal reaches a processing facility it can be tested and tracked back to its previous locations to track a potential disease outbreak. Since meat being exported in the US has already undergone testing, the countries we import from will not need to use EID’s. However, as stated before, those countries the US import beef from have already been vetted by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and have their own disease tracibility program.

    • It is illegal to not have proper identification on cattle that enter the marketplace. Currently, first time offenders can receive up to an $1,100 fine, secondary (or more) offenses can occur much higher fees. If you plan to sell at a market or other commercial avenue the EID tag will be required no matter what, and markets will not accept cattle without proper identification, or will charge a fee to tag the cattle themselves. If you currently sell cattle, you already comply with these laws using the metal tags, they are simply changing the type of tag that will be accepted as official identification.

  2. Does this include calves / yearlings that are taken to the market?

    • Kay,

      As of now, all cattle 18 months or older must be identified with a USDA approved official identification. Unless they are,
      1. Moving directly to slaughter or through one approved livestock market and then directly to slaughter,
      2. Moving to an approved tagging site, or
      3. Being moved from one premises to another premises with the cattle remaining under common ownership as part of normal farm or ranching operations. Cattle shall not be commingled with cattle under separate ownership.

  3. So to answer the previous comment
    If the calves are younger than 18 months, they are not required to have them. Is that correct? Thanks

    • There are some exceptions to the rule, like for rodeo & exhibition cattle, but for the most part yes. Only cattle over the age of 18 months must have an official ID to enter commerce (be sold).

  4. And who will they trace back to when American beef is blended with Mexican or Brazilian beef? Especially when it’s all labeled Product of USA.

    • Gwen,

      Any meat imported into the US must undergo the same level of inspection before, during, and after slaughter that meat processed in the US must. Therefore, that countries on-the-hoof traceability program would not apply to processed meat. Any processed meat that is imported must undergo it’s own testing before being allowed in the country and any contamination found after the fact would be traced back to the processing facility, these issues are normally food borne illness and have little or nothing to do with the issues we are tracking with live cattle identification (animal disease).

  5. I have an 8 month old brahman bull. He’s a forever pet at my home. He’s the only cattle in my posession, will not leave my property, will not be sold, will not be slaughtered or consumed, will not be shown… does he require a tag? Thanks

    • If you plan to keep him alone forever-as a pet- the only safe and humane thing to do is have your bull castrated. If he is a steer you will have less chance of him breaking through a fence to find a girlfriend. If you keep him a bull and isolated he will lead a miserable and unfulfilled life and you could end up injured.

  6. It’s my understanding that it’s part of the plan issued by the United Nations, and the USA has to comply.

  7. Ms. Halbritter, My working understanding of the Cattle ID program is different from the
    information you shared. Cattle that enter commerce through a livestock market do not
    have to be tagged. They are only required to be tagged if they leave the market for destinations
    other than a slaughter plant. Also I believe the USDA has changed the time line for EID
    requirements. As a point of information, the Federal rule only applies to over 18 month old
    bovine crossing state lines. It would be helpful if you would check your facts and revise
    your information to help producers as they market their cattle.

    • Ms. Willis,

      There are many rules and regulations regarding the movement of cattle, not only on a federal level but also on a state level. You are correct that in general, animals moving directly to slaughter do not need an identification tag and that federal regulations only require ID tags on animals over 18 months old. This article was only to explain the transition timeline of moving to RFID tags, no other part of the current cattle identification rules have proposed changes.

      Yes, the transition has been stalled for now and we are working on an updating the information here to prepare for potential changes to the plan.

  8. I have a 11 month old calf and she has the metal tag in her ear I figured out the first two numbers are the state which is Florida but then there’s three letters and then 4 numbers how do I find out what the letters mean? The letters are bxc does anyone know what this means?

  9. Amazing content and blog Alicia, I would like to say thank you for kindly share your thoughts and wisdom, keep doing this nice job, hope to read more nice and informative articles like this one, we know how experience worths.

    Best regards

    Your follower,


  10. I want to figure out where my heifer came from since I don’t believe the person that sold her to us. How do I look up her metal tad Id number?

    • To my knowledge, only state officials can access the national Animal Identification Management System (AIMS). You can reach out to your local FDACS animal industry inspector to see if they can access the report for you. However, this report will only tell you whoever originally put the ear tag in, it won’t tell you where the cow has been since unless it went through an official channel (like a sale barn). Private individuals are unlikely to report the transfer of tagged cattle if purchased through private/individual sales.

  11. Hi Alicia I have a question. Is there an obligation to report traced animals that for some reason die within the farm? If so how is this done? To put it another way, how are animals that die taken out of the database? If this is not done there are going to be a lot of animals in the database with an unknown status.

    • Hi Mr. Perez,

      Technically yes, you should be reporting the “retiring” of any tag number that has been assigned to your premise ID. You can do this by contacting your local Department of Agriculture representative.
      Of course, that is if the tag will not be removed and re-used on the operation.

      • So this is not something that can be done by the producer by accesing a web base system for example. It has to be done by an USDA representative

        • Only approved representatives can enter the AIMS site, this includes USDA representatives, state agriculture reps (Florida Department of Ag) and many approved tagging sites (like sale barns).

          Typically, many cattle don’t have USDA registered numbers until they leave their birth place and go through an official channel like a sale barn that requires the USDA approved tag. If you were to have a cow die that has a USDA tag associated with your premise ID, it is best to at least keep records of that if you are not going to retire the number with USDA rep.

          These numbers are only utilized if a cow is found to have some disease, so an abundance of “dead” tags is not really an issue. There is more of an issue of private sales of USDA-tagged cattle and no trace record of what operations they have been on, since these individuals rarely contact representatives to have the ID numbers moved to the next premise ID.

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