Sheep & Goats Need Scrapie Tags—Here’s Why

If you intend to sell sheep or goats, you need to register and tag your livestock with scrapie tags. Here's what to know about the disease and requirements.

by Rachel Porter
PHOTO: Karin Van ham/Pixabay

Sheep and goat owners are required to register and tag their herds with scrapie identification before selling the livestock or moving them off the premises. Scrapie tagging is a federal program designed to eradicate the scrapie disease implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

An exception to this rule: wethers under 18 months old being moved for sale or slaughter. (For exhibition, wethers under 18 months need some identification, though official tagging isn’t required.)

The USDA office assigns every farm a premise ID, and the department also provides tags and applicators for free. Alternate scrapie test identification is also available in some cases, potentially with additional stipulations.

What Is Scrapie?

Scrapie is a neurological, degenerative and eventually fatal disease in sheep and goats. It transmits from an infected dam to her offspring through body fluids.

Moreover, any bedding that comes into contact with fluids from infected sheep or goat will also be affected.

What Are Symptoms of Scrapie?

The USDA cites the following symptoms for scrapie:

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  • Behavioral changes: tremor (especially of the head and neck), pruritus and locomotor incoordination, which progresses to recumbency and death. These changes may start out as just subtle changes in behavior or temperament.
  • Locomotor issues: loss of coordination, biting of feet and limbs, lip smacking and gait abnormalities, including high-stepping of the forelegs, hopping like a rabbit and swaying of the back end. 
  • Physical changes: weight loss despite retention of appetite

An infected animal may appear normal if left undisturbed at rest. However, when stimulated by a sudden noise, excessive movement or the stress of handling, the animal may tremble or fall down in a convulsive-like state.

Several other problems can also cause clinical signs similar to scrapie in sheep, including:

  • the diseases ovine progressive pneumonia, listeriosis and rabies
  • presence of external parasites (lice and mites)
  • pregnancy toxemia
  • toxins

The only way to officially diagnose the condition? Through testing with your veterinarian. 

What Should You Do If Your Sheep or Goat (over 18 Months Old) Shows Signs of Scrapie?

Contact your veterinarian, who will report to the USDA’s Veterinary Services. Your vet can obtain tissue samples from living or dead sheep or goats at no cost to you if reported and processed through the USDA.

How Do You Get Scrapie Tags?

To request these official sheep and goat tags, a flock or premises ID or both, call 1-866-USDA-Tag (866-873-2824).

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