Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ear Tag Colors to Indicate Year (AU System)

Did you know that in Australia they have a system of different color (or 'colour') ear tags to indicate the birth year of sheep? Now it is an Evil Government System like our US scrapie tags, but according to an aussie sheep book I read, it was a local custom with sheep breeders in a certain part of Australia first.

I have been thinking of using the AU colors in my new ear tagging system, which will now feature double-tagged ears on the young lambs. In one ear will go a tag which indicates breed, gender and twin/single status. The second tag will indicate birth year.

Both baby tags will have the same #, which will begin with the year numbers: 1501 for the first lamb of next year. Or first ewe lamb anyway.

They will not be getting their official scrapie tags until they are older. These tags will be in the colors of their breed tags.

I think it might be a good idea if sheep producers would use the AU system for one of their sheep tags. (Two tags per sheep, one in each ear, is a good idea because of the possibility of tag losses.) I wouldn't favor a forced government system of colored tags, though.

On my own farm, the year tags will NOT be the scrapie tags, so I can use all the colors as indicated above. For sheep farmers who want to use year colors on the scrapie tags, the blue must be replaced by another color. I'd suggest dark green, since the green in the system is a light green. Gray is also available--- but I'd leave that as a possible substitute for the black tags.

After a few years' use of the year-color system, one will be able to tell at a glance which sheep are which age. One will be daily reminded if the herd has a lot of elderly sheep, or if they are nearly all yearlings. In Australia where the system had been in use, when asked the age of sheep, the farmer will say, 'oh, she's a red tag' and the listener, if well informed, will know what year that sheep was born.

More ear tagging lore:

Baby tags
Tags that are clearly visible on adult sheep are too heavy for the ears of a newborn lamb. And newborn is the best age to tag 'em. It's not only that when they get a few days beyond newborn they can outrun me. The tag holes heal better in baby sheep. And the healed-up tag hole can be used for a larger tag when the babies get to adult size. Premier recommends tagging lambs with two tags to ensure that each lamb is identifiable even if they lose a tag.

Year numbers
Premier also recommends that you use a baby tag number starting with the year number--- 15 for next year. The reason that's helpful is that you don't have to remember which tag numbers you used on the tags three years ago--- the year number will be different each year.

My new system
I used pink and blue baby tags the past two years to indicate boy and girl lambs, and this has worked out well. My new system will be using more colors so that the tags will also be breed tags.
  • Shetland sheep, twin or better ewes: yellow
  • Shetland sheep, twin or better rams: salmon
  • Hair sheep cross, twin or better ewes: spearmint (pale green)
  • Hair sheep cross, twin or better rams: green
  • Single ewe lambs any breed: white
  • Single ram lambs any breed: gray
The baby tags will be Q-flex 1.0 or 1.5 tags from Premier. Q-flex 3 tags will be used for their Evil Government scrapie tags.

This system means that each sheep will have a minimum of 3 tags in a lifetime. This is not that expensive when you consider that the 'cheap' alternative of one tag per sheep can mean, if the sheep loses the tag, that the sheep can no longer be accurately identified. If you have two sheep lose tags that are the same sex and color, you might have to sell both sheep without papers and suffer a financial loss as a result.

Why so much emphasis on twins in my system? It's been shown that there are economic advantages to ewes that bear twins. Experienced shepherds all know that--- but we get caught up in breeding for exotic colors or fine wool or wool that sheds or horns on ewes, and we keep single-born lambs as breeders because of their other qualities. My system, in which singles are tagged in white or gray regardless of breed, makes it very obvious that retaining these singles is a compromise in breeding for the valuable twinning trait. I'm still planning to keep some non-twins as breeders--- but only if they have other important traits.

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