Sheep and goat keepers: how to identify your animals

Find out when to identify your sheep and goats, where to buy identifiers and how to replace lost or damaged identifiers.

This guide explains when you need to apply identifiers and where to purchase them.

You can also find out about types of identifiers and information they display.

When to identify sheep and goats

You must identify your sheep and goats:

  • within 6 months of birth if they’re housed overnight
  • within 9 months of birth if they’re not housed overnight
  • before you move them off their holding of birth if this is sooner

In an emergency you can take an unidentified animal off your holding to visit a vet, but you must:

  • identify the animal as soon as it’s back on your holding
  • record the move to the vet in your holding register

Your sheep or goats will be rejected if they aren’t correctly identified when they arrive at a market.

Where to get identifiers

Buy official identifiers from eartag suppliers approved by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

The supplier will source official identification numbers for your animals from the GB Ear Tag Allocation System (ETAS). These numbers will be printed on the identifiers and encoded in the transponders of electronic identifiers (EIDs)

When ordering identifiers tell the supplier your:

For animals born on a holding with a temporary CPH or common land, give the flock or herd mark of your main holding.

Add management information to identifiers

You can add management information (eg your own system for recording the age of animals) to identifiers, as long as it’s clearly separate from the official identity number and the 2 numbers can’t be confused with each other.

You can also attach separate management tags to your sheep or goats, but to avoid confusion with official identifiers, management tags can’t:

  • be yellow, black or red
  • have the letters ‘UK’ on them

Replace lost or damaged identifiers

If you discover an identifier has been lost or damaged, you must replace it within 28 days of noticing that it was lost or damaged.

If you remove a tag from an animal because of an infection, you must replace it as soon as the infection clears up.

You must record new tag numbers and old tag numbers, if you know them, in the replacement tag section of your holding register.

Replacement tags and pasterns must be red if they’re applied to an animal on any holding other than where it was:

  • born
  • last identified

Contact your RPA approved tag supplier if you need to order replacement tags.

There’s a table summarising the rules for applying replacement idenfitiers (PDF, 125KB, 2 pages) .

Replace single ear tags on animals intended for slaughter

Animals intended for slaughter within 12 months of birth can be identified by a single ear tag that shows your flock or herd mark, but no individual identification number for the animal.

You can replace single slaughter tags with either:

  • a replica of the lost or damaged tag that only displays your flock or herd mark
  • a pair of adult tags with an individual identity number for the animal, as well as the flock or herd mark

If you decide to keep a lamb or kid beyond a year old, you must replace its single tag with 2 adult identifiers before its first birthday. If the lamb or kid is no longer on the holding where it was born, you can only do this if you can trace the animal back to its holding of birth.

Replace ear tag pairs on adult animals

Adult animals generally have 2 ear tags that display the animal’s individual identification number and your flock or herd mark.

If 1 of the ear tags is lost or damaged you can either:

  • replace the lost tag with a replica that displays the existing identification number
  • remove the remaining tag and replace both tags with replicas that display the existing identification number, or a pair of tags that display a new individual identification number

You must follow the second of these options if both ear tags are lost or damaged

Replace identifiers on adult animals that have 1 ear tag

Some adult animals only have a single ear tag. Their second identifier can be a:

  • tattoo
  • bolus (an EID which is ingested by the animal and can be scanned)
  • pastern (a leg band, which can be an EID or non-EID).

If the ear tag of an animal with a tattoo, bolus or pastern is lost, you must order a replica ear tag (so the new ear tag matches the tattoo, bolus or pastern).

Replace ear tags on animals identified before 2010

Animals identified before 2010 are known as ‘historic flock’.

If you have to replace an ear tag on a historic flock animal, you should replace both ear tags with a new pair that includes an EID.

This isn’t a legal requirement but it will make it possible to gather your animals’ individual identification numbers using scanning equipment.

From 2015 you’ll have to provide individual identification numbers when moving historic flock. Some markets and abattoirs will be able to do this for you using scanning equipment, if your animals have EIDs.

Re-identify imported animals

If you import sheep or goats from a non-EU state, within 14 days of the animals arriving on your holding, you must:

  • remove any existing identifiers on animals
  • replace them with a pair of red UK identifiers, 1 of which must be an electronic identifier (EID) if the animals are sheep
  • record the details of the old and new tags in the replacements section of your holding register

Don’t re-identify sheep or goats brought to your holding from other EU states. Sheep and goats from other EU states aren’t classed as imports.

You can’t import animals to common land, or export them from common land, including to or from countries in the EU.


If you have any other questions about identifiers call either the:

  • RPA’s Livestock ID Helpline (0345 050 9876)
  • Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) helpline (03459 335 577)

If you have a problem with a particular ear tag complete and return the ear tag feedback form to ETAS.

Published 1 June 2014