USDA changes sheep, goat scrapie ID requirements

New USDA rules state that sheep and goats must have official ear tags to meet identification and record keeping requirements when moving off their premises of origin to help eradicate scrapies, a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system.

SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Department of Agriculture — Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has completed a standards update that officials believe will be more efficient in disease eradication and more consistent in the identification (ID) and record-keeping requirements for sheep and goats.

“USDA-APHIS’s National Scrapie Eradication Program has made great strides toward disease freedom since its inception in 2002, largely as a result of effective slaughter surveillance,” said Dr. Barry Pittman, State Veterinarian at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Earlier this year, the final rule to update program regulations was published in the Federal Register.

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. Two to five years after infection, affected animals will often begin to show visible signs such as intense rubbing, incoordination that progresses to an inability to stand, and death.

Other signs may include head tremors, head pressing or “star gazing,” significant weight loss with no decrease in appetite, and wool pulling. Additional signs in affected goats may include difficulty milking and premature kidding. Since slaughter surveillance started in 2003, the percent of cull sheep found positive at slaughter has decreased 99 percent.

However, Pittman cautions that in order to declare the United States “scrapie-free,” there must be evidence of testing in all sheep and goat populations.

The new rules state that sheep and goats must have official ear tags when moving off their premises of origin. The main exception is castrated sheep and goats, under 18 months of age or sheep and goats of any age, shipped directly to a slaughter establishment or a federally-approved market that has agreed to apply official ear tags.

Livestock markets may charge a fee to apply official identification. There are also exceptions for the use of registration tattoos, flock ID tattoos, and implants/microchips as official ID when the animals are not in slaughter channels or moving through livestock markets.

Currently, APHIS will provide up to 80 plastic flock ID tags, free-of-charge, to producers who have not received free tags from APHIS in the past. APHIS will discontinue the availability of no-cost metal tags for producers. Dealers and markets may continue to receive metal serial tags at no cost.

The no-cost metal tags previously provided to producers will be phased out by Summer 2019, once the currently obligated funding is expended. During the phase-out, APHIS will continue to provide, upon request, up to 100 serial metal tags free of charge to producers (either regular orange metal serial tags or blue ‘slaughter-only’ metal serial tags) who haven’t received APHIS-provided tags within the previous 24 months.

To request these official sheep and goat tags, a flock/premises ID or both, call (866) USDA-TAG (866-873-2824). If you have received tags before or need more tags or a different type of tag, you can purchase your own official tags from an approved tag manufacturer, once you have a flock ID.

For complete information regarding sheep and goat identification requirements, including specific exceptions to this rule for certain classes of animals and a listing of USDA-approved tag manufacturers, please visit: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/sheep-and-goat-health/national-scrapie-eradication-program/ct_to_order_ear_tags.