Changes to cattle identification tags on a timetable

Changes to cattle identification tags on a timetable
Current regulations, with the exception of the type of tag, remain unchanged.
As of January 1, 2020, free metal tags will no longer be provided.

– – – – – – – – – Metal tags are no longer permitted to be attached to an animal.

– – – – – – – – – Official identification is limited to official radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.

To order official RFID tags marked “840,” a producer must possess a national premise identification number (PIN).

Visit or for more information on the pilot projects or to get involved.

How will the changes to official identification tags affect you?

Metal tags are rapidly being phased out in favor of electronic identification (ID) tags, with official metal tags no longer being provided for free beginning January 1, 2020. Beginning January 1, 2021, metal tags for animals will no longer be approved.

The transition will be complete on January 1, 2023, when radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags labeled “840” will become the only acceptable form of official identification.

Beginning January 1, 2023, all animals currently wearing metal tags must be retagged with an official RFID tag in order to be considered officially identified. The initial round of tags in 2023 is almost certainly going to be subsidized.

After the first year, producers should budget for 100% of the cost of tags.

Why is official identification undergoing change?

The transition from official metal tags to “840” RFID tags is the first step toward improving the cattle industry’s animal disease traceability (ADT).

The 2003 identification of a suspected case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) emphasized the importance of enhanced ADT. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) failed to identify more than half of the animals imported with the suspected case during the BSE investigation. As a result, the beef industry and the USDA have concentrated their efforts on developing a national identification system capable of rapidly tracing cattle infected with exotic animal diseases.

Why are producers required to participate?

The extent to which the cattle industry retains control and influence over the further development of animal disease traceability regulation is contingent upon regaining trust following the voluntary National Animal Identification System’s failure (NAIS).

The industry’s cooperative participation in the transition to electronic identification and in traceability programs is critical for USDA, consumer, and export market trust.

Attempts at establishing a national identification and traceability system in the past

To fully appreciate the task at hand, it’s necessary to understand previous attempts. The first attempt at a national animal identification system — the voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS) — was implemented in late 2003 (post-BSE) and serves as the foundation for our current system of animal disease traceability. This program enhanced cattle traceability by establishing the animal identification number (AIN) and the premises identification number (PIN) (PIN). The program determined that it would be illegal to remove official tags. Significant movement was defined in the program as:

The sale of an animal on a private basis.

Animals are sold via an auction market.

Animal participation in exhibitions.

Why are systemic changes necessary?

Those who use official animal identification tags on a regular basis may be aware that the NAIS is no longer our traceability program. Since 2011, we’ve used the Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program.

While the NAIS outlined the requirements for a traceability program and provided the tools necessary to accomplish the industry’s goals, the voluntary plan had low producer participation, reducing its chances of success. The failure of voluntary participation in the program, despite a concerted campaign emphasizing the benefits, resulted in the current state of mandatory regulations.

Pilot programs for producer-led traceability

Currently, private industry is developing and testing two major traceability pilot programs: Traceability Pilot and CattleTrace. Both voluntary pilot programs are industry-led rather than government-led, with a strong emphasis on participant confidentiality. Both of these programs will succeed only with the participation of the beef industry. Their success, or failure, will determine future cattle industry regulations.

Pilot program for traceability

The Texas Cattle Feeders Association, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, and the Kentucky Beef Network collaborated on the Traceability Pilot program. The program focuses on value-added premium opportunities within the industry’s business-to-business partnerships. Participating feedyards offer a $5 incentive per head for RFID-tagged animals with correlating animal health and nutrition information.

By capturing data on animal movement throughout the supply chain, the Traceability Pilot adds data points to the current system and hopes to pair this data collection with added value for the producer.

Electronic identification should facilitate the sharing of data at all stages of the manufacturing process.

The ease with which data can be shared could imply the ability to provide performance data from the feedlot back to the cow/calf and stocker level, as well as data from the packer back to all segments.


CattleTrace is a Kansas-based pilot program that was developed in collaboration with Kansas State University, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Livestock Association, and the Livestock Marketing Association. CattleTrace has grown to include several additional states, private partners, processing partners, auction markets, and industry representatives since the pilot project began.

CattleTrace is a program that makes use of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) technology.

When cattle equipped with a UHF tag are within the range of a reader, their ID number, location, and time are recorded.

The readers are located throughout the country in various auction markets, feedyards, and processing facilities.

The entire system is passive, requiring only the presence of a UHF tag on the animal to function.

The future of RFID tags

RFID tags will be an integral part of the cattle industry for the foreseeable future. Numerous operations have already embraced technology to enhance their records and workflow.

While management changes are difficult, being proactive in developing processes for the future of our industry is critical to ensuring that animal disease traceability programs provide not only business security, but also opportunities to add value and improve our product by responding to production and quality needs.

RFIDs have a wide variety of applications that can add value to a cattle operation. I encourage producers to embrace change, to ask questions, and to collaborate on which programs will benefit our industry the most in the future.