Agricultural Importing 101: Bringing Livestock over the Border |

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Agricultural Importing 101: Bringing Livestock over the Border

Every year, thousands of cattle are moved over the Canada – USA border. Whether they’re flowing into Canada or the United States changes based on a number of factors, but no matter what, importing cattle is a vital part of cattle ranching for farms in both countries. 2018, in particular, has proven to be a strong year for cattle importing — nearly 15,000 head of feeder cattle were imported into Canada in May, which is close to double the numbers from the same time last year.

Cattle aren’t the only livestock moving across our borders, either. Canadian farmers and ranchers import swine, alpaca, bison, sheep, and more from the United States and beyond to improve herd health, such as by introducing new desirable breeding candidates.

However, importing live animals into Canada is never easy — the risks of disease and smuggling mean that the Canadian government has imposed stringent import rules and regulations on livestock. If you want to import livestock over the Canadian border, you’ll have to make sure you and your animals are completely prepared!

Species-Specific Import Requirements

Governmental bodies such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have put into place a number of regulations meant to keep Canadians and Canadian farms safe. One program meant to regulate the health and safety of livestock imported into Canada is the Livestock Identification and Traceability Program.

The Livestock Identification and Traceability Program

The purpose of this program is to provide relevant parties with key information about the location and identity of livestock moving over the border. It outlines requirements for eligibility for exporting as well as importing at a federal level; additional regulations may apply at a provincial level.

Cattle, bison, and sheep have regulations that differ only nominally from each other, while they differ more from pigs and wild boars. Outside of some exemptions, all animals require an approved Canadian tag from the CFIA at time of import, but the period of time during which documentation must be kept intact and on hand differs; swine require five years, while cattle, bison, and sheep require two.

Occasionally, a foreign indicator will be enough for the CFIA to waive requirements for re-identification under approved Canadian tags — but there is no guarantee every foreign indicator will be appropriate, and importers should be prepared either way.

How about those exemptions? If you’re importing livestock for immediate slaughter, any cattle, bison, and sheep don’t need to be identified with approved tags. Pigs for immediate slaughter, on the other hand, may have an approved Canadian indicator, foreign tag, or slap tattoo, but no matter what, need to be identified. In addition, any animal that was previously exported from Canada can be re-imported with the same tag.

Country-Specific Import Requirements

In addition to thinking about the specific regulatory needs for the species of your imports, you need to keep the origin of your livestock in mind, as well. Current Canadian policy divides imports into two general categories: those arriving from the United States and those arriving from elsewhere in the world. This means that you need to keep in mind two broad categories when preparing livestock for import — country regulations and species regulations.

If you were to import breeding swine from an EU member nation, for example, your import requirements would look different from than if you were importing breeding cattle from the United States. You’ll need to watch out for a number of swine diseases when you’re trying to import pigs from the EU in particular, while there are less requirements for proving the health of cattle imported from the United States — though they do still exist!

Make Sure You’re Prepared

  • Are you ready for any quarantine periods?
  • Do you have room for inspection fees in your import budget?
  • Are your swine from a nation that Canada accepts imports from, or are you trying to import pigs from a banned EU nation?
  • Do you know how long you have to report your documentation to proper bodies?
  • Have you kept up with changing regulations and livestock disease outbreaks?


Don’t go it alone — contacting a customs broker for help will make importing livestock over the Canadian border pain-free!