By Jan. 1, 2023, metal bangs clips or other disease identification tags will be replaced with a singular RFID ear tag that will be placed on the left ear of cattle. 

The use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags has been a hot topic for cattle producers recently. Some countries, like Canada, have been requiring them for years while they have remained optional for U.S. cattle producers. As consumers continue to demand transparency in the markets, some producers have opted to start using RFID tags in their market ready cattle, viewing the issue like a train that is leaving the station.

It appears RFIDs may no longer be optional. USDA announced earlier this year that it will be implementing changes to the way animals are identified in the United States’ Animal Disease Traceability Program (ADT). The ADT began in 2013 as a way to solidify identification requirements for animals crossing state lines. As a leader in animal disease traceability, the ADT program is the best protection against a potential disease outbreak among livestock.

USDA will be fading out the current tagging system and moving forward. Cattle that move across state lines must have a RFID tag, and this new ruling effects Montana producers greatly because of the state’s Brucellosis vaccination program.

The timeline for this switch is actually quite rapid. By Dec. 31, 2019, USDA will no longer provide the metal bangs clips, but approved vendors will still be allowed to manufacture the tags. By Jan. 1, 2021, USDA will no longer allow the metal tags to be produced, but they will still be recognized by USDA as an official form of identification.

However, it is out with the old and in with the new, come Jan. 1, 2023. All sexually intact bison and beef cattle over 18 months of age, all bison and cattle used for rodeo or show (regardless of age), all female dairy cattle, and all male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013, will be required to have a RFID tag before interstate travel.

“It is about disease traceability and it is to protect the industry,” Dr. Eric Liska, Brucellosis Program Director for the state of Montana, stated during a producer meeting in Twin Bridges, Mont.

Dr. Liska was quick to point out this new ruling does not apply to animals that stay within their home state. In the case of Montana, the metal bangs clips will continue to suffice. If a sexually intact animal is taken to an auction yard and sold out of state, it is the auction yard’s responsibility to attach the RFID tag. Cattle moving directly to slaughter are also exempt of needing an RFID tag.

Innovation must come at a cost and this new ruling is no exception. Currently, USDA provides the metal clips at no cost to the producer. Dr. Liska explained that RFID tags will cost about $2.50 each. USDA will provide veterinarians a 50-cent coupon, but producers will be required to make up the cost difference. If the animal already has an RFID tag, vaccination data can simply be loaded onto the tag and there is no need to purchase another one.

For the sake of consistency, RFID tags will need to be placed on the left ear of cattle because scan bars are being installed on the left-hand side of chutes in most major marketing and processing facilities. This is quite the curve ball for most producers because the bangs tattoo and metal clip are currently located on the right ear of cattle. It has become common practice for producers to put their ranch identifying tags on the left ear of their breeding cattle, standing by the rule of thumb that the right ear is for the veterinarian. Further, most chutes are operated on the left side. The instillation of the new RFID tags may present some logistical complications when the cattle are being worked.

All that aside, it is the information age and RFID tags will do wonders for streamlining data for both USDA and state labs. At this point, most livestock disease data is still being input by hand by both state and federal agencies, which has caused a backlog. RFID tags will allow for more real-time data collection and recording.

RFID tags are a big shift for an industry built by tradition. If you aren’t already using RFID tags for personal use or for a value-added program, make sure and have a discussion with your local veterinarian. RFID tags, like a train, is about to leave the station, ready or not.