Irish sheep tagging regulations explained

Sheep must be tagged in accordance with the rules set down under the National Sheep Identification System and only tags that have been approved for use under the NSIS may be used.

The identification requirements for sheep as outlined here applies to sheep born after January 1, 2010.

The requirements for sheep born prior to 1 Jan 2010 continue to be the NSIS rules that were in force at that time.

Sheep Tagging Requirements

All sheep must be tagged with at least one tag by 9 months of age or on leaving the holding of birth, whichever comes first.

Breeding

Animals to be kept definitively for breeding must be double tagged by 9 months of age with a conventional mart tag in the left ear, bearing a 12 digit number, and either a ruminal bolus or an electronic tag in the right ear, bearing the identical 12 digit tag number on the conventional mart tag.

In general, both tags on a sheep fitted with an electronic tag will be yellow. The tag on a sheep fitted with a ruminal bolus will be light blue.

Direct Slaughter

In the case of sheep intended for slaughter before 12 months of age they may be tagged in just the left ear with a conventional slaughter tag.

Mart

In the case of sheep going for sale via a mart before 12 months old they may be tagged in just the left ear with a conventional tag which must be approved as a mart tag.

(Upgrading to EID – Animals less than 12 months of age bought at marts and tagged with one conventional mart tag can be upgraded to double tagging with a specific EID tag if they are to be retained for breeding. This must be done by the time the animal is 12 months of age.)

Live Trade

Sheep born after 1 January 2010 and engaged in intra-community trade or third country exports must be double tagged with a conventional tag in the left ear, bearing a 12 digit number, and either a ruminal bolus or an electronic tag in the right ear, bearing an identical 12 digit tag number to the conventional tag.

Sheep purchased for export and not identified as above can be upgraded to EID status as follows:

a) a bespoke EID tag bearing the same number as the conventional mart tag already on the animal can be ordered by the exporter

b) The sheep can be re-tagged with a new EID set and the new tag number correlated to the old number in the flock register of the exporter

Any animal being exported must prior to presentation for certification at the export assembly centre have been tagged in accordance with the rules of the NSIS. In general both tags on a sheep fitted with an electronic tag will be yellow. The tag/s on a sheep fitted with a ruminal bolus will be light blue.

Sheep Tag types

Slaughter Tag

A slaughter tag can only be used where lambs are going directly for slaughter from the holding of origin to a factory or an abattoir.

A slaughter tag goes in the sheep’s left ear. This is the only situation where slaughter tags can be used and they are not acceptable on lambs destined for marts or elsewhere. Lambs being presented for sale at marts with slaughter tags will not be permitted entry to sales.

Sheep Tagging Slaughter Tags
DAFM

As some farmers and marts were having difficulty distinguishing between slaughter tags and mart tags it has been decided that the colour of all slaughter tags produced from June 1, 2012 will be white in colour. Any stocks of yellow slaughter tags can continue to be used as slaughter tags after the white slaughter tag has been introduced.

Mart Tag

A mart tag is a permanent tag for use for all movements of lambs under 12 months from the holding of origin to either a mart or to another holding. This tag can also be used to send lambs direct to slaughter if you wish.

A mart tag is yellow in colour and goes in the sheep’s left ear.

Sheep Tagging Mart Tag
DAFM

In the event that you are selling lambs through a mart there is a definite advantage in tagging them with an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set when leaving the holding of origin as outlined at section

Electronic Tag Sets or Bolus Sets

An EID Tag Set or Bolus Set is required to identify breeding sheep born after December 31, 2009 when they reach 9 months old and all other sheep born since December 31, 2009 when they reach 12 months old.

In addition, all sheep for live export must also be fitted with either an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set prior to export regardless of age, if they have been born since 31st December 2009. The mart tag goes in the sheep’s left ear and the electronic tag goes in the right ear. In the case of a Bolus Set, the blue tag should go in the left ear.

Electronic Sheep Tags

The older animals born before 31st December 2009 do not have to be electronically tagged.

EID Tag Set – One electronic ear tag for insertion in the right ear and one mart tag for insertion in the left ear. Both are yellow and the tag number on each must match.

EID Bolus Set

One electronic ruminal bolus to be inserted in the sheep’s stomach and one mart tag in the left ear. The left ear tag will be blue to indicate that a bolus has been fitted. Lambs must be a certain weight before they can be given a bolus. The minimum lamb weight for each bolus is supplied by the bolus manufacturer.

Sheep Tagging  EDI Bolus Set

Advantages of Using an EID Tag Set or EID Bolus Set

While the use of an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set is optional for lambs under 12 months of age there are significant benefits where lambs are tagged with an EID Tag Set. Animals so identified require no further tagging at any stage to comply with EU or NSIS rules and can be slaughtered, retained for breeding or exported and traceability is fully maintained.

Furthermore, sheep identified with electronic tags can be scanned electronically for the purpose of generating tag lists when the lambs are moving off the holding or on arrival at slaughterhouses and/or marts.

In the case of farmers who have their own EID tag readers and suitable software the farmer could scan the sheep and print off his/her own tag list which can then be attached to a dispatch/movement document.

Under NSIS, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will allow for the provision of a facility whereby slaughterhouses and marts that meet certain requirements can be approved as a Central Point of Recording (CPR)1.

Single Electronic Tag

If you are selling lambs at a mart ideally they should be tagged with an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set as pointed out at Section B.3 above. However, if you do not wish to use an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set, it is recommended that you should at least use a Single Electronic Tag (EID) in the right ear.

Sheep identified with electronic tags are more attractive to fattener producers who buy in sheep from multiple holdings as they can be scanned electronically for the purpose of generating tag lists either when the lambs are moving off the holding or on arrival at slaughterhouses and/or marts which are approved CPR’s.

Where farmers are using a tag list either generated by themselves or they intend to use a tag list generated by an approved CPR the dispatch/movement document must still be completed as normal with all information apart from the individual tag numbers and the tag list is then attached to the dispatch/movement document as set out in sections B.3.3 and B.3.4 above.

Replacement Tags

These tags should be used where an animal loses its tag(s) and traceability to the holding of origin cannot be established. The animal should be tagged with a red replacement tag(s) and when moved off the holding can only be moved for slaughter.

Where an animal that has been identified with a bolus loses both the blue bolus tag and the bolus itself and cannot be traced to its holding of origin, and the owner decides to re-tag with a new bolus set, the bolus tag should be pink.

Tag Readers

A reader is an electronic device, whether hand held or fixed, that is capable of scanning an electronic tag or bolus and recording the individual tag’s or bolus’s number. Flock-owners who are interested in purchasing readers should satisfy themselves that the reader is capable of reading all NSIS approved tags or boluses, is fit for purpose having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No.21/2004 of 17 December 2003 (as amended) and is compliant with ISO Standards. Your tag supplier will advise on the most suitable reader for your needs should you wish to purchase a reader.

Sheep identified with electronic tags can be scanned electronically for the purpose of generating tag lists when the lambs are moving off the holding. This list can then be associated with the relevant dispatch/ movement document which must still be completed as normal with all information apart from the individual tag numbers.

Management Information on Sheep Tags

In the case of leaf tags and button tags, either the male or female part of the tag may be left blank. Flock-owners ordering new or replacement tags can opt to have management information such as their flock number, pedigree identifier or any other information printed on the blank part of a tag.

When and How to Tag Sheep

Selling Sheep

Lambs going for slaughter directly from the holding of origin

In general, sheep being sold for slaughter must be identified with either a tag or a bolus by either 9 months or when they leave the holding of birth, whichever is sooner. If going directly for slaughter to a factory they can be tagged with a single conventional slaughter tag in the left ear. For all other destinations, they must be tagged, at a minimum, with a mart tag in the left ear.

Sheep that are being reared in intensive conditions must be identified by either 6 months of age or before they leave the holding, whichever is sooner.

Lambs that you are selling as store lambs for fattening

Farmers selling lambs at marts are again reminded that there is a definite advantage in tagging them with an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set when leaving the holding of origin for the reason that such lambs require no further tagging to comply with EU or NSIS rules whether they are being purchased by slaughterhouses, fatteners, exporters or being retained for breeding.

If you are selling store lambs for fattening, or lambs that could be kept on a second or subsequent holding prior to being sent for slaughter, before 12 months, it is recommended that you should at least use a Single Electronic Tag (EID) tag in the right ear as described at Section B.4.

Sheep identified with electronic tags can be scanned electronically for the purpose of generating tag lists for record keeping purposes when the lambs are moving off the holding or on arrival at slaughterhouses and/or marts which are approved as CPR’s. These tag lists can then be associated with the relevant dispatch/ movement document which must still be completed as normal with all information apart from the individual tag numbers.

Under (NSIS) all sheep born since 31st December 2009 must retain one tag number for their life from the holding of origin. Lambs going for slaughter cannot be retagged when moving from one holding to another. The first tag number a lamb receives in its lifetime at the holding of origin will be the number that is recorded on all documentation for all movements throughout its life. Therefore if a lamb less than 12 months, that has been fattened on a second holding prior to being sent for slaughter, is not electronically identified the farmer will have to manually read all the tag numbers and record them individually on the dispatch/movement document when the lambs are leaving the holding which will be cumbersome in the case of large mixed consignments.

Lambs born since 31st December 2009 that you are selling and which will be retained as breeding animals or that are being exported live

EID Tag Sets or Bolus Sets must be used to identify breeding sheep born after 31st December 2009 when they reach 9 months old and all other sheep born since 31st December 2009 when they reach 12 months old.

In addition all sheep for live export must also be fitted with either an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set prior to export regardless of age, if they have been born since 31st December 2009. The mart tag goes in the sheep’s left ear and the electronic tag goes in the right ear. In the case of a Bolus Set, the blue tag should go in the left ear. Any sheep with two permanent incisors is deemed to be over 12 months old.If you are selling a lamb less than 12 months of age that may or may

If you are selling a lamb less than 12 months of age that may or may not be bought for breeding or for live export it must be tagged with at least a mart tag in the left ear by 9 months or whenever it leaves the holding, whichever comes first. If a lamb is purchased for breeding or live export and it has not been electronically tagged the responsibility for electronically identifying the animal is passed to the buyer. In this  case the animal can be upgraded to EID status by the means set out in Section C.2.1.

Sheep bought in for breeding

Depending on the age of the sheep all sheep bought at a mart for breeding will already have an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set, a single mart tag or a single EID Tag.

Already Tagged with EID Tag Set or Bolus Set

Sheep purchased for breeding that are already electronically identified with a yellow mart tag in its left ear and a matching EID Tag in the right – or a blue tag in the left ear do not need to be retagged and the sheep keeps the tags it has. However, where the animal has a blue tag in its ear which indicates that it has been identified with a bolus, you must check the animal with an EID reader to ensure that there is a bolus in its stomach. You can usually tell if a sheep is electronically tagged by checking if it has two yellow ear tags with matching tag numbers.

Bought in with One Mart Tag

If you have bought sheep at a mart that are tagged with a single mart tag in the left ear you can keep them for breeding by upgrading them to an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set. This must be done before they are 12 months of age by either:

(a) Ordering a matching electronic eartag for the right ear bearing the same tag number as the existing tag in the left ear; or

(b) Re-tagging with a new EID Tag Set or Bolus Set and correlating the new tag number to the old tag number in the flock register. The old tag may- if you wish – be removed from the animal except where the animals are being exported. However where the first tag is electronic, it must be removed as an animal cannot have two EID tags. In cases where the farmer or purchaser decides to use EID boluses in preference to EID tags, a matching blue conventional tag must be put in the left ear.

Sheep born since 31st December 2009 and tagged with either white tags with the old numbering system or with slaughter tags are not permitted to be sold at marts. However, if you have an animal born since 31st December 2009 that is tagged in this manner you should retag the sheep as described above at (b) and remove the white tag or the slaughter tag.

Bought in with One EID Tag

While single EID Tags are aimed primarily at the store lamb trade it is permissible to purchase a lamb tagged with a single EID Tag and retain it for breeding. Such lambs must be upgraded to a full EID Tag Set or Bolus Set by 12 months of age using either of the following options:

(a) Ordering a matching single conventional mart tag for the left ear bearing the same tag number as the existing EID Tag in the right ear; or

(b) Re-tagging with a new EID Tag or Bolus Set and correlating the new tag number to the old tag number in the flock register.

However, as the first tag is electronic, it must be removed as an animal cannot have two EID Tags. In cases where the farmer or purchaser decides to use EID boluses in preference to EID Tags, a matching blue conventional tag must be put in the left ear.

Sheep that you have bought in for fattening

All lambs born since 31st December 2009 must retain one tag number for their life from the holding of origin. The first tag number a lamb receives in its lifetime at the holding of origin will be the number that is recorded on all documentation for all movements throughout its life.

Retagging of lambs destined for slaughter including store lambs either on exit from a second or subsequent holding is not permitted.

Where the store lamb producer opts for using a conventional mart tag instead of an EID Tag then the store lamb finisher must manually record all 12 digit-tag numbers of the tags that have been applied at the holding of birth on the dispatch/movement document which must accompany the sheep when the consignment goes to the slaughterhouse.

Therefore fatteners buying in store lambs for further fattening prior to slaughter are advised that electronically identified animals will be more attractive from a record keeping point of view. Where lambs bought in for fattening are identified with a single electronic tag as described in section B.4 or an EID Tag Set as described in section B.3, a fattener can invest in some reading equipment which would automatically generate the tag list for him after the sheep are scanned.

The once-off purchase of a reader would be particularly justified in the case of large scale store lamb finishers who could gain the most benefit from automation and who would no longer have any additional tagging costs.

Fattener producers generating their own tag lists must still complete a dispatch/ movement document as normal with all information apart from the individual tag numbers and the tag list is then attached to the dispatch/movement document. This will save the farmer having to manually read and write down on the dispatch/movement document all the tag numbers of the sheep.

Electronically identified animals will also be more attractive from a factory viewpoint as the option of electronic scanning will speed up processing and ensure easy traceability. Where large mixed consignments of conventionally tagged animals are presented at the slaughterhouse this will result in slowing down of processing due to the need to manually read all the tag numbers of the sheep.

The factory for its part must ensure that the correct tag numbers from the holding of origin are recorded on the dispatch/movement document and that a copy of this document is held with the holding register at the slaughterhouse.

Home Bred Breeding Sheep

Generally, sheep born on your holding and intended to be retained for breeding must be identified with either an EID Tag Set or Bolus Set by 9 months of age. The conventional tag should be inserted in the left ear and the electronic tag should be inserted in the right. In the case of a bolus set, the blue tag should go in the left ear.

Sheep that are being reared in intensive conditions must be identified by either 6 months of age or before they leave the holding, whichever is sooner.

Tagging Sheep – Best Practice

While there is not a problem in general with sore and infected ears post tagging, the low observed rates can be further reduced by farmers following best practice for tagging sheep which includes the following: –

  • Tagging should be carried out in good hygienic conditions with clean hands and suitable and appropriate equipment to minimise infection rates.
  • Tagging at the correct time of year in order to avoid fly strike.
  • Where possible it is best to tag on a dry day. At least the animal’s ear(s) should be dry.
  • Placing the tag in the correct part of the ear is very important for retention and low infection rates and to minimise trauma. The tagging site is approximately one third of the length of the ear from the head. This is generally the strongest and thickest part of the ear.
  • Feel where the veins are and insert the tag midway in height of the ear, in the middle of the two main veins.
  • The female part of the tag (section or button with the hole) must always be placed in the inner side of the ear.
  • The disinfection of equipment and the sheep’s ear prior to tagging each animal to minimise the transference of infection from sheep to sheep by the process.
  • After tagging both sections of the tag should be twisted 360 degrees to loosen the tag and increase airflow.

Welfare issues relating to Sheep tagging

Farmers should not tag animals if there is a concurrent skin infection in the flock – for example Orf or Periorbital Eczema – but should wait until the infection has cleared. However where infection does arise the farmer should do the following: –

  1. Contact his/her own Veterinary Surgeon for best advice and best practice on how to treat the infection.
  2. If its deemed necessary to remove the tag(s) to allow the ear(s) to heal then the farmer should record the removal in his/her flock register and retain the removed ear tags in case of an inspection.
  3. Retag the affected animal(s) as soon as possible after the ear has healed. If the farmer follows this procedure outlined at 1-3 above there should be no issues on cross compliance for animals that have had their tags removed on animal welfare grounds.

While every effort is taken to ensure this information is up to date, it should be noted that schemes and their terms and conditions are subject to change and the administrating authority should be contacted for the full terms and conditions.