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A sheep with an ear tag.

An ear tag is a plastic or metal object used for identification of domestic livestock and other animals. If the ear tag contains an RFID module conforming to ISO 11784 & 11785, then it is called an Electronic Ear Tag.

Contents

Overview

An ear tag usually carries an individual identification number or code for the animal, or for its herd or flock. This identification number (ID) may be assigned by some national organisations (usually in the form of Property Identification Code, or PIC), or they may be handwritten for the convenience of the farmer ("management tags"). The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) of Australia regulations require that all cattle be fitted with a RFID device in the form of an ear tag or rumen bolus before movement from the property and that the movement be reported to the NLIS. However, if animals are tagged for internal purposes in a herd or farm, IDs need not be unique in larger scales. The NLIS now also requires sheep and goats to use an ear tag that has the Property Identification Code inscribed on it. These ear tags and boluses are complemented by transport documents supplied by vendors that are used for identification and tracking. A similar system is used for cattle in the European Union, each bovine animal having a passport document and tag in each ear carrying the same number. Sheep and goats in the EU have one or two tags carying the official number of their flock (however, individual numbers are to be introduced from the end of 2009).

An ear tag can be applied with an ear tag applicator (also called pliers), however there are also specially-designed tags that can be applied by hand. Depending on the purpose of the tagging, an animal may be tagged on one ear or both. If there exists a national animal identification programme in a country, animals may be tagged on both ears for the sake of increased security and effectiveness, or as a legal requirement.[1][2] If animals are tagged for internal purposes, usually one ear is tagged. Australian sheep and goats are required to have visually readable ear tags printed with a Property Identification Code (PIC). They are complemented by movement documents supplied by consignors that are used for identification and tracking.

Very small ear tags are available for laboratory animals such as mice and rats. They are usually sold with a device that pierces the animal's ear and installs the tag at the same time. Lab animals can also be identified by other methods such as ear punching or notching (also used for livestock; see below), implanted RFID tags (mice are too small to wear an ear tag containing an RFID chip), and dye.

History

A sow polar bear with ear tag

Although ear tags were developed as early as 1913 as a means to identify cattle when testing for tuberculosis, the significant increase of use of ear tags appeared with the outbreak of BSE in UK. Today, ear tags in a variety of designs are used throughout the world on many species of animal to ensure traceability, to help prevent theft and to control disease outbreaks.

The first ear tags were primarily steel with nickel plating. After World War II, larger, flag-like, plastic tags were developed in the United States. Designed to be visible from a distance, these were applied by cutting a slit in the ear and slipping the arrow-shaped head of the tag through it so that the flag would hang from the ear.

In 1953, the first two-piece, self-piercing plastic ear tag was developed and patented. This tag, which combined the easy application of metal tags with the visibility and colour options of plastic tags, also limited the transfer of blood-borne diseases between animals during the application process.

Some cattle ear tags contain chemicals to control insects such as buffalo fly etc. Metal ear tags are used to identify the date of regulation shearing of stud and show sheep. Today, a large number of manufacturers are in competition for the identification of world livestock population.

The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a list of manufacturers approved to sell ear tags in the USA for the National Animal Identification System.

The International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR) controls the issue electronic tag numbers.

The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) is Australia's system for tracing cattle, sheep and goats from birth to slaughter.

Other forms of animal identification

Pigs, cattle and sheep are frequently earmarked with pliers that notch registered owner and/or age marks into the ear. Mares on large studs have a plastic tag attached to a neck strap for identification. Valuable animals, such as stallions, usually have a brass name plate on their headcollar during transportation. Dairy cows are sometimes identified with ratchet fastened plastic anklets fitted on the pastern for ready inspection during milking.

The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) Australia, formerly used cattle tail tags for property identification and hormone usage declaration.

See also

References

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