Best Practise sheep ear tagging

To prevent the risk of animal diseases being spread identification of livestock is required in the UK by law. Failure to correctly identify animals may see them rejected at a livestock market. Far worse however, can be reductions or penalties to Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments, flock movement restrictions and even prosecution can follow if a random inspection by the Rural payments Agency (RPA) find missing or incorrectly applied ear tags and inadequate records.

In 2016 it was the main area for transgressions and more than 1,300 livestock farmers in England faced penalties under the rule

(source; DEFRA)


Ear tags are the most common form of identification. Other methods include bolus or leg pasterns. Official suppliers such as Datamars source official identification numbers for your animals from the GB Ear Tag Allocation System (ETAS). These numbers are laser printed onto ear tags and encoded in the transponders of electronic sheep tags. Additional management information can also be added, if it’s clearly separate from the official identity numbers.

Identification is required within nine months of birth or before animals are moved off their holding of birth. Lost or damaged tags as well as those removed to treat an infection, need to be replaced within 28 days or as soon as the infection clears up.


Animals intended for slaughter within 12 months of birth can be identified by a single electronic ear tag showing a flock or herd mark, but no individual identification number for the animal. Those kept longer or for breeding require double tagging with a single electronic ear tag and an accompanying visual tag.

(source; DEFRA).


All sheep in Northern Ireland are double tagged (see www.daera-ni.gov.uk for more details).


When tagging sheep or goats make sure the operator is properly trained and competent. To support this, all sheep tags are despatched with full instructions. Instore displays contain sample applicators, tags and dummy ears as well as video clips on the Datamars YouTube page. This is to encourage users to become familiar with the tag range. In Addition, any of the Datamars team are happy to answer questions relating to best practise ear tagging.


When tags arrive on farm they need to be checked to ensure they are printed with the correct information. Mistakes can happen and it is easier to rectify before they are inserted into the animal.