This fact sheet was developed by students enrolled in Purdue's ANSC 442 Sheep Management course in Spring 2005, as a semester project. These fact sheets provide useful information on various topics related to sheep. View the list of fact sheets.


Sheep Identification


By: Melissa Mitchum, Kyle Riggs, & Josh Chastain



Identification is a very important tool in the management of sheep.  Every successful business operation must have accurate records, and in the sheep industry this starts with proper identification of the sheep.  There are several types of identification systems used in the sheep industry. Some of these are permanent where others are used to temporarily identify the animal for treatment or sale.  There are also a few semi-permanent systems used like ear tags, for example, which can be occasionally lost or ripped out. We will cover a brief summary of most of these forms of identifications.


Permanent or Semi-Permanent Forms of Identification


Ear Tags

Ear tags are the most common used form of animal identification.  They come in many forms and colors.  Most ear tags are made from either plastic or metal.  The plastic tags come in many sizes and a couple of different shapes.  The plastic tags come per numbered or blank so you can use your own numbering system, and are a fairly cheap source of animal ID.  Ear tags are applied to the ear using an ear tager which pierces the button of the tags through the ear.  Pictured below are some common types of ear tags and ear tagers.





Scrapie Tags

Scrapie tags are now required by law for all sheep entering interstate commerce.  This is part of a nation-wide effort to eradicate the scrapie disease, and allows every sheep to be identifiable to the original flock it came from.  This law applies not only to sheep, but also to goats and any other animal that has resided with sheep.  Scrapie tags are in the form of a premise ID tag with a unique animal number and statement from the owner.  These tags are applied with the use of an ear tag gun.





Electronic Identification

Electronic identification is the use of microchip placed in an ear tag, which is placed in the animals.  The microchip has the number on tag programmed to it, and is read using a computer and a reader device.  This is the form of identification that the U.S. is moving towards due to than plans to eradicate scrapies and track animals that have scrapies or other disease back to producers who raised these animals.  This method of ID could help make record keeping easier for producers too, using the computer system.  It is applies just like a normal ear tag.






A tattoo is a number and sometimes a letter or a herd mark placed in the ear of the sheep.  This method of ID is commonly used by purebred associations as it is one of the most permanent forms of ID.  A tattoo gun is use to place the numbers and/or letters into the ear.  The numbers and letters are made of needles that place small holes in the ears in their shape and than ink is applied to the holes so that the number is readable.

The down fall to this system is can be ripped and sometimes the holes become filled with dirt or grow over, but biggest disadvantage is that the small number in ear is hard to read from a distance.





Ear Notching

Ear Notching is used two different ways in sheep. Some producers use it to identify the type of birth in one ear and the week or year of birth in the other ear depending on the system being used.  The other use is to identify sheep that they are going to cull from their herd.  This method is used more in the commercial sheep industry to identify those ewes that have bad udders, are poor mothers, or any other reason they might want to cull these after lambs are weaned and this way they can be IDed in the lambing barn.  This also can be used to mark younger ewes who had rectal prolapses for cull before breeding.  The ear notch is just a V shaped notch placed somewhere on the ear.






Nose Prints & Retina Scans

Every sheep has a unique nose print like humans have thumb print.  This is mainly used to help identify show sheep and prevent people from swapping sheep.  This is done by placing ink on the lambs nose and than pressing paper or index card to lambs nose to so print is place on the paper.  Some places are now using retina scans used in some human security systems to replace the nose print due to the ease of it and technological advantages.





Temporary Forms of Identification


Paint Brand

Paint brands are used mainly for a farms own use or sale use and is a painted number that is placed on an animals back or side.  This allows for quick id of animals during breeding season from a further distance, or any other time animals might need to be id quickly from a distance such as lambing.  Auction and sales use these due to the easy read factor for buyers and recoding sales.





Neck Straps

Neck Straps are very similar to a dog or cat collar but is made for larger animals.  They are used mainly in dairy animals as well as sometimes used to identify animals with a number for judging contest.  They are probably the least used form of sheep ID.




Auction Tags or Hip Tags

An action tag is a stick tag that is sometimes place on sheep when they are sent to an auction barn to id the sheep and where it came from for the sale. It is use with other forms many times and is mainly use for the auction barn record and is a quick, easily seen form of id for them to use during the sale.




Chalk, Paintstick, and Sprays

Paintsticks, Chalks, and Sprays have many uses for temporarily marking animals and come in many colors so you can use them at the same time for different IDs.  Sheep are commonly marked with these on the back or head.  They are commonly used to mark pregnant and open ewes during pregnancy checks, as well as to mark animals that need treated or have been treated or need sorted off from a group and about any thing else you can think of.