Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is spreading across a large number of industries, including livestock. Using RFID for livestock management is becoming the norm rather than the exception, driven in part by mandates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).


  • RFID tags are replacing traditional metal ID tags in livestock management.
  • Animals receive RFID ear tags that are tracked by stationary and handheld readers.
  • Farmers use RFID to identify and track livestock inventory, as well as record essential health data for each animal.
  • Governments around the world are encouraging the technology’s use to better manage animal diseases.
  • The USDA wants to mandate the use of RFID tags for all cattle involved in interstate travel and exhibitions.


In livestock management, RFID is used to identify and track individual animals, including cows, bison, pigs, goats and more. A tamper-proof RFID tag in a durable plastic case is attached to the ear of each animal via an easy-to-use applicator tool. Many tags are composed of two discs joined together through the animal’s ear, usually shaped like a disc, strip or flag. The process is similar to piercing a human ear. Each tagged animal is assigned a unique 15-digit tracking number, and RFID readers identify each animal via its RFID tag.

Farms can use either portable or stationary RFID readers to interrogate the tags. Some portable readers look like wands that can be waved over livestock, while others are more traditional in design. Stationary readers can be incorporated in gateways that cattle walk through, or as part of the traditional scales used to weigh the animals. The data collected from the readers is fed into the facility’s computer system, which can be connected via the Internet to cloud-based tracking systems. Given the right type of readers, livestock location can be monitored in real time.


RFID tags let farmers do more than just identify individual animals. The tags and accompanying software can store an animal’s entire history, including its weight, age, sex, birthing time, offspring and medical records. This enables veterinarians, for example, to simply scan an animal’s tag to obtain detailed information about that animal’s health. It’s all part of a trend toward “smart farming” that uses Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to manage all aspects of livestock management. With the right data collected, farmers can better manage milking, feeding, breeding and other activities from birth to slaughter. Farmers who embrace RFID technology gain a competitive advantage over those who continue to use traditional tracking methods. RFID provides a number of important benefits, including:

  • Time and labor savings
  • Faster identification of diseased animals
  • More accurate tracking of cattle inventory
  • Authentication of animals


Governments around the world recognize that RFID technology can track the often-rapid spread of animal diseases. Animal disease traceability is essential for managing illnesses in cattle used for interstate commerce, exhibition, rodeos and other recreational events. It’s essential for tracing diseases in all dairy cattle. Using RFID in this fashion helps to safeguard the world’s food supply. Any disease outbreaks can be quickly detected, and the affected livestock can be traced and quarantined.


RFID is becoming essential for farmers in the United States and abroad. There are an increasing number of government regulations and programs to encourage owners to adopt RFID tags for their livestock management. For example, the U.S. government founded the National Animal Identification System to promote the adoption of RFID tags to manage animal health. And in 2020, the USDA gave away eight million RFID ear tags to cattle and bison ranchers in its effort to encourage farmers to move to RFID technology.

Taking the next step, the USDA is considering mandating that farms switch to RFID ear tags for all cattle and bison that are transported via interstate travel. The USDA originally wanted this requirement to take place on Jan. 1, 2023, but some industry pushback may delay that date. This movement toward the use of RFID technology is causing a boom in the market of RFID tags and supporting equipment for livestock management. Research company Technavio predicts that the global RFID market for livestock management will reach $974.7 million by 2023, with North America farmers representing a quarter of the market’s growth.

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