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Sheep and Cattle traceability: the impact of environmental & other factors in Scotland on ear tag loss

Sheep and Cattle traceability: the impact of environmental & other factors in Scotland on ear tag loss

  • Animal Disease
  • 2022-2027
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All livestock should have a unique number showing country of origin, flock, herd mark and location. This information is a legal requirement and essential for responding rapidly and effectively when faced with a livestock disease outbreak.

From 2022 onwards, ear tag manufacturers and suppliers are using a new system to generate unique tag numbers for sheep and goats - Livestock Unique Identification Service (LUIS) – with a new electronic ear tag system for cattle (Bovine EID) introduced later.

Farming and crofting enterprises are incurring increased costs associated with missing ear tags, not least penalties incurred by breaches in cross-compliance and the challenges of transitioning to LUIS and Bovine EID.

In general, there is a lack of evidence about missing ear tags in sheep and cattle. More information is required on the factors which cause tag loss and reasons for missing ear tags on different farm settings in sheep and cattle. This new data can inform the development of strategies to prevent tag loss and improve retention rates.

There is also a driver in relation to animal welfare by avoiding the need to repeat tagging because of tag loss and damage when ears are torn.

The top-down drivers are to:

  • Improve levels of preparedness in Scotland to respond to animal and public health threats, such as Foot and Mouth Disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
  • Improve traceability of sheep and cattle and highlight opportunities for improving the flow of data through the supply chain.
  • Reduce costs associated with national disallowance.
  • Contribute to the success of animal health planning and disease eradication and control schemes.


  • What and how can improvements be made to the health of Scottish livestock through increased uptake of biosecurity practices?


The aim of this project is to identify the causes of ear tag losses and challenges for farmers complying with ear tagging regulations for sheep and cattle in Scotland.

To achieve this aim, we are collecting prevalence data from a range of sources to evaluate tag loss numbers. We are using a mixed methods approach (survey, interviews, and ethnographic and environmental observations) to collect data which will help us understand the circumstances and context of ear tag losses and missing ear tags. We are working in partnership with farmers to understand which tags they use, details about the environment where losses occur and in which farm settings, as well as their attitudes and practical aspects. This includes providing farmers, who are less compliant with the legislation, the opportunity to explain their approach to tagging, why they find it difficult to comply, and to suggest options for making their compliance easier. We are aware that this information is sensitive and are keeping all contributions confidential.

We are also gathering feedback and views of farmers about previous awareness-raising communications and reporting problems. This information is informing recommendations for communications to support farmers to adapt to the introduction of Livestock Unique Identification Service (LUIS) and Bovine EID in 2023. Lastly, we are collating information about the technical specification and features of ear tags which are provided by manufacturers on the list of DEFRA-approved ear tag suppliers.

Overall, this project is improving the traceability of sheep and cattle through the supply chain and potentially reducing on-farm costs, freeing up farmer’s time, and reducing the risk of regulatory non-compliance. We are also supporting key areas, such as disease prevention, control, eradication and the protection of public health as well as UK wide initiatives and international trade.


Previous Projects 

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  • Animal Disease
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