What to do after a calf is born

Cattle keepers must tag a newborn calf, add its details to their holding register and register its birth within legal deadlines.

Applies to England and Wales

If you keep cattle, bison or buffalo, for every calf born, you must:

  1. Identify the animal using official ear tags.
  2. Update your holding register.
  3. Register the birth with the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS). You’ll get a cattle passport to record the animal’s movements from birth to death.

You must carry out all of these actions so that cattle can be traced at all times. This is a legal requirement to prevent and contain the outbreak of disease.

If you fail to do this, your passport application could be refused, you could get movement restrictions placed on your herd, reduced subsidy payments or be prosecuted.

Deadlines for fitting ear tags

Each calf needs one primary and one secondary ear tag. The deadline for each type of calf is different. If you cannot fit ear tags by the deadline, you should contact BCMS.

Beef calf

You must fit the primary and secondary tags before the calf is 21 days old.

Dairy calf

You must fit the:

  • primary tag before the calf is 36 hours old
  • secondary tag before the calf is 21 days old

Buffalo calf

If you rear buffalo for beef, you must fit the primary and secondary tags before the calf is 21 days old.

If you rear buffalo for milk, you must fit the:

  • primary tag before the calf is 36 hours old
  • secondary tag before the calf is 21 days old

Bison calf

You must fit the primary and secondary tags when the calves are separated from their dams or before the calf is 9 months old, whichever is sooner.

What cattle ear tags to use

You must buy official ear tags from these approved ear tag suppliers. You will need 2 tags for each calf - these are referred to as primary and secondary tags.

You should only stock enough ear tags for the number of calves you expect to be born during the year. The supplier will register the tags you buy against your county parish holding (CPH) number and herd mark.

How to fit cattle ear tags

You must fit a yellow flag tag as the primary tag. It can go in either ear. The primary tag must only show the following official identity information:

  • crown logo
  • country code (UK)
  • herd mark
  • 6-digit official ear tag number

Fit the secondary tag in the other ear. It can be a different size, style or material from the primary tag. It must contain all the same official identity information as the primary tag. You can add other cattle management information but the official identity information must still be clear.

Make sure that the person fitting the tags is properly trained.

You should:

  • always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  • fit in cool weather (where possible) to minimise infections
  • secure the animal’s head to prevent jerking during tagging
  • make sure that you are using the correct applicator for the model of tag you are fitting
  • make sure the ear, the tag and the applicator are clean and disinfected where needed
  • check the ear after about 10 days for signs of damage or infection - consult your veterinary surgeon if needed
  • store unused tags in a clean, dry container

When using plastic tags, you should also:

  • check the tags line up correctly on the applicator so they will lock together when fitted
  • make sure both parts of the tag have the same number
  • make sure the male part of the tag (the part that goes through the ear) enters from the back of the ear
  • make sure the female part of the tag (the part hollowed or moulded to receive a corresponding male part) is on the inside of the ear to reduce the chance of it catching on things like fences, gates and feeding troughs

You should also follow The British Safety Executive’s safe handling advice.

Deadlines to register a birth (and get a cattle passport)

You must register the birth of every calf born on your holding with BCMS. You will get a free cattle passport to record a calf’s movement from birth to death.

For cows or buffalo, you must register the birth by the day the calf is 27 days old to get a passport.

For bison, you must register the birth by the day the calf is 7 days old.

Contact BCMS if you’re worried you do not have enough time to register the birth. Without a cattle passport, you cannot move your calf or enter it into the food chain.

British Cattle Movement Service
Telephone (England): 0345 050 1234
Telephone (Wales): 0345 050 3456
Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm
Find out about call charges

How to register the birth (and get a cattle passport)

You can register a birth online, by telephone or by post.

Follow the guidance on how to register a birth to get a cattle passport, what information you need to provide and what to do if there’s a problem.

Published 6 May 2014
Last updated 8 November 2022 + show all updates
  1. Clarified the information on ear tags. Put the deadlines in text rather than in a table to make it more accessible. Added information about the deadline for fitting ear tags for a buffalo calf. Included deadlines for recording information in your holding register. Clarified why these rules are in place.

  2. This guidance has been updated to show it no longer applies to Scotland.

  3. First published.