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.


Think carefully about the best type of tag/s for your animals. Use a suitable style and size of tag for the breed, size and age of the animal being identified. TagFaster tags are extremely light-weight and low profile when in the ear and ideal for tagging even young lambs. Transponders are sealed in flexible material ensuring security and readability for life.


When fitting ear tags, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the correct applicators for the make and type of tag that you are fitting. TagFaster tags can be fitted with conventional pliers but are primarily to be fitted with the automatic applicator designed to lessen the risk of torn ears when inserting tags. This can be a problem particularly in older lambs who are only being tagged prior to slaughter. They are often more lively than younger lambs.


You should always make sure the animal’s head is secure to prevent jerking during tagging. Holding animals in a race can also reduce movement and less stress for the animal surrounded by others. The TagFaster automatic applicator allows the operator to tag fairly quickly reducing potential stress to the animal and reducing the risk of ear tearing as the operation is undertaken swiftly and tags are in place and the applicator has released the tag before the lamb has time to react.


Ear tagging should always be carried out under hygienic conditions. Make sure the ear, tag and applicator are clean. You may want to consider using disinfectant to clean your equipment and the area you are tagging in. There are also antiseptic lubricating gels available containing a mild chlorexidine antiseptic and this can be applied to the male part of the tag before insertion, this reduces infection and helps the male part pierce the ear. Check any products to avoid residues in meat or milk before using them.


Cooler weather reduces the risk of “fly strike” - the main cause of ear infection. If this is not possible, consider using an insecticide as well and observe tagged animals closely.

When applying the tag avoid the main blood vessels and ridges of cartilage. The different styles of tag are designed for different placement in the ear. As a result, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific tag make and design. Allow for ear growth when fitting loop tags.


When fitting two-piece plastic tags, always make sure the male part of the tag is fitted from the back of the ear as centrally as possible. After inserting the tag, the female part of the tag should be on the inside of the ear.


Store unused tags in a sealed clean container in a dry place so tags do not become soft if they absorb too much moisture particularly if stored in a damp unheated outbuilding.


After a week, check newly-tagged animals and treat any inflamed wounds you see especially in warmer weather.


Consider the areas on your farm where livestock are kept – remove or modify any sharp object on feed hecks for example which the animals are likely to rub against and that do or may catch tags and pull them out. Cut and remove plastic twine when feeding and bedding as this can entangle with tags with catastrophic results -and torn ears!


Click here to find out more about TagFaster!

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