Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fun with Ear Tagging

Ear tags are a great way of identifying sheep and goats. Unlike ear tattoos, which can be hard to read, and can't be detected at a distance, ear tags can identify an animal at a glance.

Sadly, government tyranny has imposed the scrapie ear tags on us, and threatens further tyrannical control over our animals' ears. But the numbered scrapie tags do duplicate something a lot of us would be doing anyway.

I buy my ear tags from Premier One. These tags are both cheap and high quality. I now use size 5 tags for my adult animals--- easier to read from a distance, especially with my ewes who turn their heads whenever they see me looking at their tags. Lambs I tag with size one tags--- currently pink and blue to indicate sex, though I may switch to colors indicating breed.

I also put on a second tag with the animal's name written on with a tag pen. This helps when the ewe loses a tag. The name tags--- bottom ones in the picture--- also have dots on the bottom indicating single/twin birth.

The name tags do tend to fade when exposed to the sun, so the underside may be the only readable side, especially on older ewes. I've started writing information on the underside of the number tag--- name, birth number, and birth year--- 2009 and 2010 in the pictured tags. This can only be read when I catch the animal to look at the underside of the tag.

I also use tag color to identify the breed of the animal--- yellow for pure Shetlands and lime green for White Dorper crosses. This is helpful for those 1/4 White Dorper crossbreds that may look mostly like a Shetland.

A third form of identification when you have Shetlands with various markings is to take digital pictures of the whole herd every year and print out thumbnail sized pictures--- there will be 30 pictures on a sheet. I rename the picture filename to the name of the animal, and so the printout has the name of the animal under her picture. By this method if your sheep manages to lose both tags, you can identify it by comparing markings.

I do an annual inspection of each sheep in which I take the photograph and check on the ear tags. If the ear tag is damaged, or the hole in the ear has gotten too wide, retagging may be indicated. I also replace faded name tags when I can.

Because I have a lot of size 2 official scrapie tags left over, when I have a lamb who I know I will sell, I tag it with one of these tags from birth, rather than the lamb tags.

Each breeder will want to have his own system. For example, if you don't name individual animals, you might want to order tags which duplicate the scrapie tag's number for the second tag. You might use tag color to indicate birth year. If you have Boer goats and you are breeding for the four teat trait (or the two teat trait) you might come up with some way to indicate teat number and quality. Easier than upending a grumpy buck to see if he's got two or four buck teats!

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