Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 5, Issue 1 - May, 2012


Animal Disease Traceability Plan Evaluated Through 4-H Horse Program

Swinker, A.M., Penn State University Equine Extension Specialist, Penn State University
Jedrzejewski, J.A., DVM, Penn State University Horse Farm Manager, Penn State University
McKernan, H.B., Extension Associate, Penn State University
Miller, R.C., Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Dir. Aninal ID, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Werner, J., Penn State University Attending Veterinarian for Agricultural Animals and Wildlife, Penn State University


The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was initiated to address health and bio-security concerns in the livestock and horse industries and promote an effective response in equine health or emergency situations. The objectives of the Animal Disease Traceability Plan in the 4-H Horse Program were to provide factual educational information, evaluate knowledge and acceptance, implant-International Standards Organization American-National Standard Institute (ISO/ANSI) compatible radiofrequency identification (RFID) chips, trace movements and evaluate scanning devices. One hundred fifteen 4-H members with 311 horses participated with ninety-three percent horses implanted with a RFID electronic microchip. Two hundred seventy-five tracing movements were reported through self-reporting web-based data collection, email, phone or mail. Implanted horses (238) were scanned at twenty-four 4-H and Open shows. Seventy-six percent reported movement by mail, with thirty-two percent utilizing email.  Thirteen participants reported they had no movements of their horse.  This study found horse owners are willing to participate in a horse identification system if the identification process is economical, feasible and does not infringe upon personal beliefs. The project assisted individuals to make informed decisions about NAIS equine identification, evaluate the usage of microchips and scanning equipment and to recognize that education, communication and familiarity are necessary to implement the equine identification system.




The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was initiated to assist the livestock and equine industry in addressing health and biosecurity concerns and to improve response of theft and natural disaster emergencies.[1] The system included providing an animal identification number or a herd/flock identification number and a premise location number maintained by individual states and tribal territories.


The equine microchip is a RFID 11784/85, 134.2 kHz ISO/ANSI implant with a 15 digit number identification number.[2] The microchip is implanted in the nuchal ligament on the left hand side of the horse’s neck halfway between the poll and withers, approximately two inches below the mane line. The microchip is read by a compatible RFID scanner. The current tracing method for equine included utilizing industry methods such as: brand inspection, certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI)-VS-127 Permit and the International Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.


Opposition, from the horse industry, surfaced on including horses in NAIS. Horsemen were familiar with traditional methods of identifying horses through testing results descriptions; breed registration papers, branding, or identifying tattoos, but identifying horses through an implanted microchip were unfamiliar.


The inclusion of equine in NAIS provided a uniform method of identifying equine and a means of biosecurity. The objectives of the Animal Disease Traceability Plan in the 4-H Horse Program were to provide factual educational information and evaluate scanning devices, the implantation process and movement tracings, through self-reporting web-based data collection. The additional objectives examined the horse owners’ awareness, knowledge and acceptance of the need of inclusion of equine in the NAIS plan. In 2009 the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced a series of listening sessions to address the concerns surrounding NAIS.[3] The input from the listening sessions led to the United States Department of Agriculture to announce in Feb 2010 the need for a new flexible framework process for shaping and implementing animal disease traceability.[4] On August 9, 2011, USDA issued a proposed rule to establish general regulations for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock moving interstate when animal disease events take place.[5]


Materials and Methods


Educational events included presentations, displays, literature, videos and demonstrations provided at different horse events such as; Equine Issue Forums, Horse Expos, Open and 4-H horse shows, 4-H club meetings, Open House events, clinics and organizations’ meetings. All were targeted as avenues to introduce the identification of horses through implantation of microchips. Individuals were provided with information on the functions of the microchip and the implantation process and were given the opportunity to present questions and comments.


County Extension Educators provided support in identifying potential participants. Over 560 invitations were sent to 4-H families located in ten Pennsylvania Counties. The invitation included educational information, registration forms and requirements for 4-H members, leaders and families interested in participation.


Horse owners completed a consent form, a registration form identifying horse(s) and information on obtaining a Personal Identification Number (PIN). If the owner had a valid PIN it was verified by the state’s Department of Agriculture. Records and data were documented on a 2007 (Microsoft Corp., Redmont, WA) Excel chart, which included the horse information, owner’s name, premise number, microchip bar code number, reactions and restraint methods, tracing movements and post scanning results. Frequencies and percentages were determined for all responses. A microchip verification form with a bar code identifying the Animal Identification Number (AIN) with directions on including the AIN on breed registration papers and how to report movement were provided. A web site was established at as a reference on NAIS that also included articles, forms, and contact information.[6]


International Standards Organization-American National Standard Institute (ISO/ANSI) compatible RFID compliant microchips, recommended by the Equine Species Working Group to NAIS, were implanted in the nuchal ligament conforming to standard protocol.[2] The site was aseptically prepared with chlorehexidine, wiped with alcohol and allowed to dry before insertion.  A scanner was used to record the microchip number prior to implantation to verify code number and functioning abilities. The horse was scanned on both sides of the neck to confirm that the horse was not previously microchipped. Following implantation a scanning occurred to confirm microchip implantation success. With owner’s consent, horses exhibiting behavioral problems during implementation were twitched. Due to safety concerns, horses exhibiting extreme behavioral issues were not implanted.


Presentations and implantation events were evaluated through contact with participant. Owners documented visible site reactions one and three days after the implantation to observe signs of possible abscesses, hives, bumps, and for site reaction sensitivity. Data was collected in a 2007 (Microsoft Corp., Redmont, WA) Excel chart.




Forty-nine educational workshops, presentations, and demonstrations were completed throughout the country to over 22,000 people. One hundred fifteen members with 311 horses participated with 93% project horses implanted with a RFID USDA approved electronic microchip. Four horses not implanted exhibited severe behavioral problems or were already implanted with a microchip.


Sixty-two premises were registered in PA, with nine farms previously registered. Nearly 72% of the horses in the study were housed on their family’s farm/stable and 18% were boarded. 10% did not report or were housed in a combination of boarding and self-owned farms. Forty-three out of 115 owners had not changed the horse premise within the year.


Immediately after implantation all 307 horses had functioning microchips. Six horses had a visual of a large swollen area near implantation. Zero horses implanted developed abscesses or had visible reaction signs after twenty-four hours. Four horses exhibited a slight bump at the implantation site which dissipated within three days. At the conclusion of the project zero implanted horses had visual signs of implantation.


Two hundred seventy-three horses were implanted without restraint. Thirty-four horses were nose twitched. One hundred twelve horses had a slight indication of detection of the insertion by either moving the neck, twitching of the skin, or a slight jump. Two horses jumped as the needle was being injected and a new syringe/needle was used on the second attempt.  A total of four horses were tranquilized for implantation; one for a demonstration and three by owner request. 


The participants reported movements by web site, email, phone or mail.  Implanted horses were scanned at 4-H and Open shows. Two hundred seventy-five tracings were recorded at a 25% completion rate. One hundred eighty-four (76%) reports of movement were mailed.  Fifty-four (32%) movement reports were emailed.  Zero telephone movements were reported. Thirteen participants reported no horse movements. After implantation, thirteen horses were sold, and four horses died (unrelated to the microchip).


Two Hundred and thirty-eight horses were scanned at twenty-four horse events. At three events zero scanned horses were found to be implanted with a microchip. At one event two horses were discovered to be implanted with a microchip unknown to the owner. The breed registration papers recorded microchip verification and were imported into the USA.


During the project, fifteen opposition emails, one written letter (through postal mail), ten phone calls and seven negative verbal opinions (face to face) addressed concerns of NAIS.




The catalyst of the acceptance of participants depended upon education and the support of the County Extension Educator. Participants desired assurance that implantation is low-risk, cost effective and adaptable to changing premises locations.


Boarded horses were unable to participate in the study if the facility refused to obtain a PIN. Facility owners expressed concerns that obtaining a PIN could close operations during disease outbreaks. Numerous owners utilized a combination of various locations and types of facilities to house horses.


Penn State University (PSU) horses were utilized in research of the functioning ability of the microchip, the implantation procedure, the usage of the scanner and the acceptance of horse owners purchasing an implanted horse. Implanted PSU horses were sold at the annual university operated Quarter Horse Sale where potential buyers were educated through displays and demonstrations on the process of implantation.


Horse behavioral movements during implantation and post visual signs were documented. Six horse owners reported swelling after implantation. Owners reported these horses were previously sensitive to topical ointments. Swollenness dissipated within six hours, forming a conclusion that swollen reaction could be caused by chlorehexidine scrub. 


After numerous attempts of scanning during a six month period, one horse had an unreadable microchip. Radiographs concluded that the microchip was present, but the depth could not be determined.  Since the microchip was unreadable, the horse was re-implanted with a new microchip.


Horses implanted were held or restrained during the procedure and exhibited behaviors similar to horses receiving standard inoculations or blood collection. Implantation procedures followed standard veterinary protocol.


Scanning events were conducted at random horse events. Owners were reluctant to go to a designated scanning area, but were cooperative in having their horses scanned at stall or trailer areas. Horse show management expressed concerns on availability of staff to scan horses, the cost of a scanner, and apprehension of additional paperwork.


Attendees at educational presentations were encouraged to voice opinions on NAIS. Common questions were: cost, who will implant, data base abilities and usage during theft of horses. The majority of horse owners were more concerned with using horse identification in theft or disaster situations and not for disease control.




Participants learned about equine identification, implantation methods and scanning equipment. Post evaluations and recording of movements identified the acceptance of owners to participate in NAIS as long as the identification process is economical, feasible and does not infringe upon personal beliefs. Continual education, communication and familiarity are needed for an equine identification system to be implemented.



Funds for this project were provided by APHIS, USDA, National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and the Equine Species Working Group. The authors appreciated the support of the 4-H Leaders, County Educators and Families that participated in the project.


Literature Cited

[1.]NAIS, Equine Species Working Group, NAIS and Horses: The facts surrounding the National Animal Identification System and the horse industry in the U.S., 2nd Edition [Internet]. USDA, APHIS; 2007, March [cited 2011 April 27]. Available from:

[2.] NAIS, Equine Species Working Group, Radio frequency identification devices (microchips) for equines [cited 2011 April 27]. Available from:

[3.] Schelhaus, J., and Klingel, M., USDA, APHIS; 2009, [cited 2011 April 27]. Available from:

[4.] USDA, APHIS; 2010, February [cited 2011 April 27]. Available from:

[5.] USDA Animal Traceability10/12/11:

[6.]DAS, Pennsylvania State University. 2010. [Internet] [cited 2011 April 27]. Available from: