Flock owners must ID sheep


SALEM, Ohio – New sheep and goat identification rules kick in Nov. 19, the latest step in the United States’ ongoing scrapie eradication program.

Scrapie, a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats, costs U.S. livestock producers an estimated $20 million to $25 million annually, according to the USDA.

ID please. The new scrapie eradication rules call for stricter identification of most breeding animals and all sheep 18 months or older.

As of Nov. 19, sheep and some goats, 18 months or older, must be officially identified and breeding sheep and goats can’t cross state lines for sale or showing unless accompanied by a veterinarian’s health certificate.

Owners of commercial whiteface breeding sheep less than 18 months have until Feb. 19 to comply with the identification and movement restrictions.

Lambs less than 18 months that are moving in slaughter channels do not need ID tags. That’s because scrapie is spread primarily through contact with birthing fluid, making it unlikely they would have spread the disease.

Goats. Goats moving across state lines to slaughter do not need individual identification unless they are scrapie-positive or exposed to or from an infected or source herd.

Sexually intact goats traveling between states to shows, fairs or in petting zoos must be identified and have health certificates. If the goat has a legible registry tattoo and has a registry certificate, no additional identification is needed.

Specific tags. The identification program uses specific scrapie tags that will be provided free to producers, although sheep owners can also purchase the official tags from approved companies.

The tags include an assigned flock identification number and a production number unique to the farm or handpicked by the producer.

Producers can request a flock ID number from your local USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service office.

Individual states will determine identification requirements for movement of sheep within a state’s borders, according to Diane Sutton, national scrapie program coordinator with the USDA.

All states have agreed to implement intrastate identification within the next two years.

Hits all breeds. Sheep producers used to think that scrapie hit primarily Suffolk sheep, but it has been diagnosed in crossbreeds, a Border Leicester, Cheviots, Corriedales, a Cotswold, Dorsets, Finn sheep, Hampshires, Merinos, Montadales, Rambouillets, Shropshires and Southdowns.

Since the first case was diagnosed in 1947, scrapie has been diagnosed in more than 1,000 U.S. flocks. In fiscal year 2001, scrapie has been confirmed in 76 animals, including 10 in Ohio, six in Pennsylvania and seven in Indiana.

Ohio is home to 14 confirmed infected flocks, the most in any of the 15 states identified with infected flocks.

But Jim Chakeres, executive director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, says the number of infected flocks in the Buckeye State doesn’t mean scrapie is a huge problem in Ohio.

“I don’t believe we have any higher incidence than any other state,” he said. “In Ohio, we simply don’t sweep it under the carpet and we get labeled unfairly.”

Ohio sheep owners have also benefited from a longtime educational effort led by the USDA veterinarian serving Ohio, Chakeres said.

Veterinarian and Suffolk sheep owner, Tim Matlock of the Mantua Veterinary Clinic, agrees that Ohio’s sheep industry and state agencies have done a good job of education.

“Maybe we do have more, but that’s because we’re looking for it,” Matlock said.

Awareness on rise. Matlock added that producer awareness has also increased in the aftermath of Great Britain’s outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in cattle. Scrapie is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE).

But flock owners haven’t always been willing to admit the possibility of scrapie, preferring to follow a “don’t test, don’t find” reasoning to avoid the stigma of having an infected flock.

“A lot of people who had it, didn’t want to admit it,” Matlock said. “They probably just hid it.

Matlock and 43 other flock owners in Ohio participate in the USDA’s Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program, which lets producers certify the status of their flocks. In Pennsylvania, 70 flock owners participate in the voluntary monitoring program.

To date, of the 812 participating flocks nationwide, 55 have been certified scrapie-free. Ohio is home to three certified scrapie-free flocks; Pennsylvania is home to four.

The only way to guarantee your flock doesn’t have scrapie is to go through the monitoring program for at least five years (scrapie takes two to five years – or longer – to show clinical signs), and then maintain a closed flock once certified scrapie-free.

Scrapie can be confirmed only by examining brain tissue, although research is on a fast track to develop a live-animal test to diagnose infected sheep before they show clinical signs.

Don’t panic. The increased attention to scrapie, the new identification rules and the drive to eradicate scrapie doesn’t mean there’s a new risk to humans, veterinarian Matlock stresses.

“Let’s not be hysterical here. There’s no human connection that’s been identified,” he said. “It’s not a crisis situation. The sheep industry just needs to clean up its act.”

Indemnity. If scrapie is discovered in a flock, sheep owners work with USDA to follow a clean-up plan. Indemnity payments will be available for animals destroyed, although the exact dollar value is a subject of much debate.

The exact number of scrapie-positive and high-risk animals that will quality for indemnity payments is not known. However, a USDA estimate of the number of animals potentially eligible for indemnity would be 50 percent of the animals in an average infected or source flock.

Indemnity payments could range approximately between $161 and $322 for registered animals and between $61 and $122 for nonregistered animals.

For more information on the scrapie identification program or the eradication program, contact the USDA veterinarian in your state, or go online to the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, http://www.animalagriculture.org/scrapie; or the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/scrapie.htm.

(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

What must be identified:

* All sheep 18 months and older;

* All breeding sheep, regardless of age;

* All scrapie exposed, suspect, test-positive and high-risk animals;

* Breeding goats, except low-risk commercial goats;

* All sheep and goats for exhibition other than castrated males.

What doesn’t need an ID:

* All sheep under 18 months going to slaughter;

* All goats going to slaughter.

For more information:

To order tags or to get more information on the identification program contact:

Ohio and West Virginia

Area Veterinarian-in-Charge


12927 Stonecreek Drive

Pickerington, OH 43147


Fax: 614-866-1086


Area Veterinarian-in-Charge


2301 N. Cameron St., Rm. 412

Harrisburg, PA 17110


Fax: 717-782-4098

If you want to use USDA ear tags that are provided free to producers, request the number of tags that you will need for the next two to three years at that time.

If you would prefer to purchase a different kind of ear tag, contact one of the approved tag companies listed below to purchase the ear tags:

Hasco Tag Company

P.O. Box 74130

Dayton, KY 41074-0130


Fax: 859-261-6002

E-mail: hasco_tags@fuse.net

Contact: Sallie Schmidt

Premier Sheep Supplies, Ltd.

2031 300th Street

Washington, IA 52353


Fax: 800-346-7992

E-mail: ssexton@premierlsupplies.com

Contact: Stephanie Sexton

National Band and Tag Company

721 York Street, P.O. Box 72430

Newport, KY 41072-0430


Fax: 800-261-8247

E-mail: tags@nationalband.com

Web: http://www.nationalband.com/

Contact: Kevin Haas

All three are officially approved tag companies. The tags are available in metal from Hasco and NBT; and in plastic from Premier and NBT in various colors. Producers are required to pay for these tags.

These ear tags are approved for the official identification of sheep and goats in interstate commerce. They are not approved for use in the Scrapie Flock Certification Program.


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