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SWFP-SHELLEY-HUGULEY-19-belted-galloways-100538.jpg Shelley E. Huguley
Belted Galloway cattle.

USDA requires RFID ear tags by 2023

Dr. Tiffany Dowell Lashmet discusses RFID ear tags, upcoming changes and deadlines in her Texas Agriculture Law Blog.

In April, the USDA announced it will make changes to the mandatory Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program concerning the type of ear tags used on beef cattle, dairy cattle, and bison.  [View Factsheet here.]

This blog post addresses only the federal regulations applicable to interstate transport of livestock.  State-specific rules apply to intrastate transport and many states may have import requirements for livestock from other states.  For more information on state-specific regulations, click here.


The ADT program, which began in 2013, requires certain animals moving in interstate commerce to have an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection (“health certificate”) and official identification. The ADT program applies to sexually intact beef cattle and bison 18 months of age or older; all female dairy cattle of any age; all dairy males born after March 11, 2013; and cattle or bison of any age used for rodeo, show, exhibition, and recreational events. (The program also applies to sheep, goats, horses, swine, and poultry, but those rules are not being modified at this time, so this blog post will focus only on cattle and bison.) 

Exceptions apply to the following:

  • animals crossing state lines in order to go directly to an approved tagging site (such as a livestock auction),
  • animals moved directly to slaughter or through no more than one USDA approved livestock facility
  • commuter herds traveling between premises owned by the same person or entity in two different states.

The USDA is not expanding the scope of the ADT program and these remain the only animals, at least for now, to which the mandatory rules are applicable.

Currently, producers can comply with the ADT rules by using dangle tags, electronic ear tags, or bright, metal tags. The USDA provides the bright, metal tags to producers for free.


The USDA has announced its plan to convert the industry from the tagging system currently used to requiring all producers to utilize radio frequency identification (RFID) tags by 2023.  Remember, this still only applies to the category of animals described above (for beef cattle: sexually intact, over 18 months old, transported interstate).  The following deadlines apply to this requirement change:

  • December 31, 2019: USDA will no longer provide the bright, metal tags at no cost. Approved vendors may still produce the tags for one more year for purchase by producers.
  • January 1, 2021: USDA will no longer allow vendor production of official USDA bright, metal tags. Bright, metal tags and other visual, non-RFID tags may no longer be applied to animals, although the bright, metal tags will still be recognized for animals previously tagged.
  • January 1, 2023: RFID tags will be the only recognized official USDA identification under ADT.

The USDA believes these changes will help animal health officials’ ability to quickly trace animals in the event of an outbreak.

One note − brands and tattoos may still be accepted as official identification if both the shipping and receiving state or tribe agree to accept the brand instead of RFID tags.


A number of details remain up in the air regarding these changes.  There has been some discussion that USDA may do some sort of cost-share program to assist producers with the costs of the mandatory RFID tags.  There will also be a need for technology like electronic readers at sale barns or other auctions, with which USDA may provide assistance.

For many cattle producers, this may be a big change and result in added expense as well.  It is important for producers to be aware of these changes and applicable deadlines.

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