You've reached the Virginia Cooperative Extension Newsletter Archive. These files cover more than ten years of newsletters posted on our old website (through April/May 2009), and are provided for historical purposes only. As such, they may contain out-of-date references and broken links.

To see our latest newsletters and current information, visit our website at

Newsletter Archive index:

Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

National Animal ID: Logistics for Beef Cattle

Livestock Update, October 2005

Scott P. Greiner Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, VA Tech

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) has been a topic in the forefront for the beef cattle industry. Much has been written and discussed relative to the logistics of how the system will be applied to the industry. Recent developments have provided more details regarding how the system may work.

Prior to examining the details of the logistics regarding animal identification in the beef industry, it is important to review the principles of NAIS. The fundamental focus of the NAIS is to maintain the health of U.S. livestock, by strengthening animal disease preparedness through enhanced disease control and eradication capabilities. The goal of the NAIS is to have the capability to identify premises and individual animals that had direct contact with a foreign animal disease within 48 hours after discovery. By reducing the impact of animal health incidents, ultimately NAIS will increase demand and promote continued consumer confidence in animal products both domestically and internationally. Note the system is not being put into place to manage production-type information (breed, weights, carcass information, vaccination history, etc.), although the system will be conducive to enhancing the ability of all segments of the industry to utilize and share this information in a voluntary manner.

The NAIS involves three basic steps for implementation: 1) registration of premises, or locations which have animals, 2) identification of individual animals, and 3) documentation of the movement of these animals as they change premises and move through marketing channels during their lifetime. The first step to NAIS is premise registration. A premise is defined as a location or entity where animals are kept for any length of time- including individual farms, livestock markets, collection points, harvesting facilities, fairgrounds, and others. In Virginia, the state veterinarian's office of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences is responsible for premise allocation, with educational support provided by Virginia Cooperative Extension. The premise registration system is a database system which allows for the necessary information for each premise (names, addresses, contact information, etc.) to be collected, and a unique number to be assigned to identify each premise. Premise registration numbers and their associated information are held in a national repository by USDA, and producer information associated with each premise is intended to be kept confidential and only accessed in the event of an animal health incident of concern.

The second and third phases of NAIS include the official identification of animals and the tracking of these animals throughout their lifetime as they move from premise to premise and are commingled with different animals. For beef cattle, electronic RFID ear tags have been established as the form of identification which will be used. A RFID tag contains a 15 digit number which is unique to the individual animal. It may be thought of as the animal's social security number. Similar to our social security numbers, the ID itself does not contain any information about the current owner, previous owner, breed, birth date, or any other information. In other words, one cannot decipher any information simply by examining an individual ID number. To do so, one would need access to the databases that may store such information and match it to the individual ID number. So where will this information be stored? USDA recently announced its intent to work with the industry so that animal movement data could be maintained in a private system that could be readily accessed when necessary by state and federal animal health officials. Industry has been in favor of this component to address producer concerns regarding confidentiality of the information. With a privately held database, confidentiality of animal movement data could be obtained. This private database would contain the information for individual animals, including their transfer from one premise to another as they moved through the production chain, including the date of these occurrences.

The following table presents information regarding how a beef animal may be tracked under the NAIS:

NAIS Animal ID Event Date Premise Number Production Segment
840279684597216 5/1/03 2E5809K Cow-calf operation
840279684597216 2/3/04 7Z560P2 Livestock market
840279684597216 2/4/04 4Y2790A Stocker operation
840279684597216 8/16/04 7Z560P2 Livestock market
840279684597216 8/17/04 99T32M1 Feedyard
840279684597216 12/22/04 82L40K7 Processor

The NAIS animal ID listed above is the unique 15 digit number carried by this calf in its RFID tag. The electronic tag contains only this 15 digit number, and the tag does not physically contain any other number or information relative to that animal (ie. the premise ID or producer owner information is not contained on the tag). The table presents example dates of how this calf may move through the beef production chain. As NAIS progresses, each time this calf changes hands or moves from one owner to the next through the production chain, the date of each occurrence along with the premise number for the corresponding new owner would be recorded. This information would be housed in the previously described privately held database. Should there be a need to gather information on this animal, officials could access the database and track the animal back and identify where and when the animal had been. Cohorts the animal had been commingled with would also be determined, as it could be ascertained which individual animals resided on the same premises during the same period of time. This is the fundamental information that is needed to fulfill the objectives of NAIS. Knowing the premise numbers for this animal, would allow health officials to access the premise ID database and associate the premise ID with a contact person and location. The privately held animal movement database will not associate premise numbers with names and locations. As previously described, details associated with premise numbers are held by USDA. Therefore, the premise ID database and the animal movement databases are independent and will not be linked.

The NAIS continues to evolve, and currently all components of the program are voluntary. USDA has announced target dates of January 2008 for required premise registration and individual animal identification, with mandatory animal tracking and full program implementation in January 2009. Producers are strongly encouraged to take the first step by registering their premises. Premise registrations may be completed on-line in a few minutes. To register your premise, go to the VDACS web site at Premises may also be registered and more information obtained on NAIS at your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.

Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension