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Animal Health

Scrapie program provides example for Wyo ID program

Cheyenne — During the late March Wyoming animal identification traceability meeting in Cheyenne, Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Executive Vice President Bryce Reece explained the scrapie identification program, which is used nationwide

The program’s success both locally and nationally provided attendees with an example of an effective animal identification program currently in use in the state.

“The American sheep industry was faced with the issue of scrapie and the huge problem of having our markets shut down. Through the pushing of some producers and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the industry decided to form the goal of eradicating it from the United States,” explained Reece.

“When one BSE-infected cow was found in the U.S., it cost the U.S. cattlemen between one and two billion dollars, and that was one imported animal. If you can bring one cow into the U.S. and have it cost the industry over a billion dollars, we knew that the sheep industry was faced with the same potential nightmare,” he said.

Reece explained the goals of the program were to ensure it didn’t intrude on people’s personal privacy but was also effective. WWGA chose to support the national mandatory scrapie ID program while it was being developed.

“There was a task force for three years. It wasn’t without detractions and controversy, but we were able to work through that. I think, for the most part, those concerns have essentially gone away today,” added Reece.

The program was initially designed for breeding animals and those going into interstate commerce. Today it has evolved into tagging everything on most operations.

“It’s easier for most producers to tag everything, then sort. We don’t need to tag wether lambs that are going to slaughter, but for a lot of producers it’s not a problem for them to be tagged along with everything else,” says Reece.

He also notes that some producers choose not to tag animals until they are put on a truck, primarily because of the potential to lose tags out on the range.

“When those sheep are headed somewhere, they’ll put the tags in, ensuring everything is tagged prior to transit,” said Reece.

Tags are provided by APHIS for free and can be obtained either from APHIS or from a vet. There is no federal database or paperwork, which was a big selling point for the program and something at which several people at the meeting expressed concern regarding a Wyoming animal identification system.

“When a producer calls to get tags, his name, the date and the tag numbers issued are recorded. That’s it. A federal regulation states that when a producer tags animals, he is responsible for maintaining records for five years in the sheep scrapie program,” explained Reece.

He adds that having ranchers keep records eliminates the need for a database. The only records APHIS or the state vet can access are names, and that information is only accessed in the case of a potential problem. At that time the producer is contacted and it is his responsibility to provide records showing when he tagged the animal and when and where it was sold.

“If a producer can say, ‘I tagged her on this date, sold her on this date at this auction,’ APHIS or the vet can move on. This program really demonstrates the importance of records,” added Reece.

One criticism of the program is that nationally there are at least a dozen different tags that are considered official scrapie identification.

“Having that many different tags makes it very difficult for markets, purchasers and regulatory vets to determine exactly what ID is in that animal. I don’t know if a metal tag is best, but it would be better if there was one official tag,” added Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan.

Logan said a tag retention study is being conducted in Wyoming in an effort to get the program geared toward adopting one official tag.

“It’s frustrating that tag retention studies weren’t thought of in the beginning, but that’s part of the process,” said Reece.

One effective traceback example Reece provided was a ewe that showed up in Wyoming and tested positive for non-typical scrapie. Due to her tag and the ability to traceback because of it, it was proven that, while she was in Wyoming when she turned up positive, she wasn’t born or hadn’t lambed in the state. Since the disease is picked up or transferred at lambing and she was from another state, it wasn’t Wyoming’s disease issue and the state was able to maintain its status.

“We think the program is working. It can be frustrating since we deal with an international marketplace and don’t produce enough lamb to meet our domestic needs. We’re tremendously affected by the international marketplace, and when you have places like Australia and New Zealand saying they don’t have scrapie, it can really come back and have a negative effect on our markets.  That’s why the industry made the decision and commitment to try and eradicate this disease from the U.S..

“If, as a country, you don’t have scrapie, it could be a case where if you don’t look for it you don’t have it. But, through programs like ours, we can trace were they’ve been and know where they’re going. We believe we will get to the point where we can say we don’t have it, and be able to effectively back that statement up. For the most part this program has worked well. It has obviously been very effective in dealing with scrapie,” concluded Reece.

Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.