ARCHIVE: Applying identification to sheep and goats
Implementation of electronic identification (EID) from 31 December 2009 has replaced double tagging for sheep.
Sheep identified before 31 December 2009 will continue to be recorded in the holding register/movement documents on a batch basis. However, to facilitate the individual recording elements from 31 December 2009 keepers can choose to retrospectively EID if they prefer.
It is important that ear tagging and tattooing is carried out correctly to ensure the welfare of your animals. Taking care will also minimise ear tag losses and associated problems. Follow the guidelines below carefully to ensure that the ear tag or tattoo is correctly applied and to avoid unnecessary pain or distress to your animals.
- New Ear Tag Allocation Leaflet (ETAS) (PDF 245 KB) – find out more on what ear tags you need from 31 December 2009.
- List of ear tag manufacturers (RPA website)
Fitting ear tags
- Make sure that your operator is properly trained and competent.
- Think carefully about the best type of tags for your animals. Use a suitable style and size of tag for the breed, size and age of animal. Avoid tag designs where the applicator (rather than the tag) punches the hole in the ear. This type of applicator can transmit disease between animals if adequate precautions are not taken;
- Make sure that the tag is fitted correctly by following the manufacturer’s instructions and use the correct pliers for the model of tag you are fitting.
- Fit in cool weather (where possible) to minimise ‘fly strike’ and infections.
- Secure the animal’s head to prevent jerking during tagging.
- Apply tags under hygienic conditions. Make sure that the ear, tag and applicator are clean. You may wish to consider cleaning your equipment and the area in which you are tagging with disinfectant. You may also wish to consider using a topical insecticide on your animal, but should take care to comply with instructions for each product used, so that health and safety regulations are met, and to avoid residues in meat or milk. Check that the chemical you are using does not remove the writing on the tag.
- The tag should be placed through the ear, avoiding the main blood vessels and ridges of cartilage. The different styles of tag are designed for different locations in the ear. You should therefore follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the tag to perform in the way it was designed. Remember to allow for ear growth when fitting loop tags.
- When fitting two piece plastic tags always ensure that the male part of the tag is fitted from the back of the ear as centrally as possible. After insertion, the female part of the tag should be on the inside of the ear.
- Store unused tags in a clean container.
Problems with ear tags
If you have problems with tag retention make sure you are fitting them strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. In many cases tags can become detached from the animal because of incorrect insertion. As with any other product, if you have problems with sheep or goat tags, you should discuss these with your supplier. A veterinarian should be consulted in cases of infection. Where you are still dissatisfied with the performance, or there are welfare issues, please inform the Veterinary Team Leader at your local Animal Health Office.
This is a method for goats (some of which have the habit of chewing ear tags!). The tattoo should be easily read on animals with little skin pigmentation. For reading marks in black ears, it is often helpful to apply an electric torch directly to the back of the animal’s ear and read the mark with the aid of the light shining through the ear. Remember that the tattoo cannot be read until some days after applying the ink. You should tattoo well in advance of the need for reading the mark (eg at a sale).
- Tattooing requires more patience than tagging. It also has more potential (than most current designs of ear tag) for transmission of disease between animals.
- Make sure that your operator is properly trained and competent.
- After loading the tattoo pliers with the relevant characters, be sure to check the tattoo on clean, thick paper or cardboard before applying to your animal. Replace characters that are broken or worn immediately.
- Hold the animal’s head to prevent jerking during tattooing.
- Cleanse the area to be tattooed with surgical or methylated spirit to remove dirt, grease and wax. Allow the area to dry. Rub in ink with a clean ball of cotton wool. The use of tattoo ink, preferably green rather than black, is critical in getting a legible and permanent tattoo.
- Place the ear between the jaws of the tattoo pliers. Make sure that the characters are parallel to and between veins and cartilage. Make the imprint quickly and firmly. Use sufficient pressure that the skin is pierced but does not bleed profusely. Immediately apply more ink and rub vigorously and continuously for at least 15 seconds to ensure penetration.
- Do not disturb the area until the healing process is complete, which may be from five to twenty-one days.
Preventing the transmission of disease
It is imperative to clean the tattooing equipment thoroughly between each use as it is likely to become contaminated with blood and can lead to the transmission of disease. When making the decision to tattoo instead of applying ear tags, you should be aware that the risk of disease transmission cannot be completely removed, even by apparently thorough cleansing and disinfection of equipment.
Before commencing a new session of ear tattooing, and before tattooing each animal, you are recommended to follow the guidance below. However, you must appreciate that this action does not eliminate the risk of disease transmission:
- remove any debris, ie skin, hair, blood and ink paste, from the pliers and characters;
- wash the applicator and characters in clean, preferably running, cold water
- the tattoo applicator and characters should then be soaked in disinfectant in the correct dilution for at least one minute;
- wash the applicator and characters in clean, preferably running, cold water and carefully dry with a clean cloth;
- discard characters that are broken or worn;
- the sponge rubber pad should be replaced when it begins to lose its elasticity.
Problems with tattoos
The animals should be checked initially for signs of excessive bleeding and for the next few days for signs of local infection. Where problems are evident, a veterinarian should be consulted.
- If you need any further information about ear tagging of sheep and goats and tattooing of goats, please contact your local Animal Health Office.
- Guidance for keepers in England: Rules for identifying sheep and goats (PDF 1.1MB)
Page last modified: March 19, 2010