Livestock movements, identification and tracing: cattle - tagging

Calf with eartagsCattle born after 1 January 1998 must have a Defra approved eartag in each ear (double tagging). The tag in each ear must have the same unique number. Such animals will be identified throughout their lifetime by this unique number. Animals born in or imported into Great Britain before 1 January 1998 may continue to be identified by a single tag. Cattle born after 1 July 2000 must be identified by all numeric tags.

When to tag

All cattle must be tagged with an approved eartag in each ear within 20 days of birth. In the case of dairy animals, at least one of the tags must be fitted within 36 hours of birth. You are allowed up to 20 days from the calf’s birth to fit the second tag.

You must fit both tags before an animal moves off the holding where it was born, even if that is before it is 20 days old. The only exception to this is in the case of bison. Bison are allowed to be tagged up to nine months after birth.

Tagging requirements

The tags used for double tagging are known as the primary and secondary tag.

  • The "primary" tag, which may be inserted in either ear, must be made of yellow plastic and be at least 45 mm from top to bottom and at least 55 mm wide. The characters must be a minimum of 5 mm high. The primary tag must bear the symbol of a crown (the GB logo), the letters UK and the unique lifetime identification number
  • The "secondary" tag may be of a range of approved materials and models, including metal, plastic "button" type and other plastic type. It must contain the same information as the primary tag, but may also contain management information. The secondary tag must be in a different ear from the primary tag
  • Since 1 April 1998 only yellow primary tags have been produced. All new-born animals must be identified by these yellow primary tags
  • The secondary tag may contain a microchip to allow electronic identification of the animal. However, it is the number on the outside of the tag that is the official number. The microchip is not part of the official requirements

Ordering eartags

Farmers must order eartags from one of the manufacturers which supply Defra approved eartags. The manufacturer will notify the Government’s computerised Eartag Allocation System (ETAS) of the farmer’s order and will be allocated sequential numbers for each tag ordered using the farmer’s individual herd mark and cross referencing to the unique farm address code (CPH). This process ensures that tags cannot be duplicated.

Under European Community rules that became effective on 1 October 1998, keepers may only be authorised to obtain a maximum of one year's supply of eartags. Keepers should therefore limit their orders for approved eartags to one year's supply.

How to tag

Eartag manufacturers will provide farmers with instructions on how to apply their tags. Farmers should ensure they are using the correct applicator for their tags. You should contact your eartag supplier for further information.

If the eartag appears to be causing any welfare problems you should notify Defra using a Welfare Notification Slip. You should receive this form with all standard eartag orders. Please contact your eartag supplier if you require any further copies.

Farmers should always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific advice on how best to insert their particular brand of eartag. If you have a problem with insertion of a particular tag, please speak to your tag supplier. If the problem cannot be resolved please speak to your local Divisional Veterinary Manager.

Lost or illegible tags

You must replace lost illegible tags as soon as possible, but no later than 28 days after you notice the loss.

Imported animals

Animals imported from other EU Member States will, from 1 September 1998, already be double tagged. (See Regulation (EC) No 1760/00 for detailed rules.) There is no need to retag these animals unless an eartag is lost. Eartag manufacturers can supply replacements for these tags. These replacements will bear the same unique animal ID number, but will replace the original country of origin's logo with the UK crown logo. However, keepers must send BCMS:

  • any EU passport
  • an Export Health Certificate
  • application form CPP16

within 15 days of the animal arriving at the holding.

If the animal is imported from Northern Ireland, the keeper must send BCMS:

  • a printout from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Northern Ireland (DARDNI) database, which should be sent from Northern Ireland with the animal
  • an Export Health Certificate
  • an application form CPP16

within 15 days of the animal arriving at your holding.

Third country imports

If the animal is imported from outside the European Union, the keeper must:

  • re-tag it within 20 days of it passing the veterinary checks
  • apply for a passport within 15 days of tagging using form CPP16

BCMS will issue a chequebook-style passport for all imported animals. The keeper must make sure that they send BCMS all the documents they need within the deadlines or BCMS will apply procedures for late application.


The requirements for eartags are set out in Regulations 3-11 of the Cattle Identification Regulations, as amended by regulation 2 of the Cattle Identification (Amendment) Regulations 1998 (see legislation page for details) . The penalties for failing to comply are set out in Regulation 34 and can also be found on the legislation page.

Electronic identification

In 1998 the Commission launched a large scale pilot, called IDEA project (Identification Electronis des Animaux), to investigate the feasibility of using electronic methods for the identification of all species of animals. The final report was presented in April 2002.

The European Commission concluded that the introduction of electronic identification should be considered in the light of its technical feasibility and its capability to improve the existing system of bovine identification.

The option for this has now been discussed with a majority of the EU Member States supporting a voluntary introduction of electronic identification (EID) for bovines. We are currently waiting for the Commission to decide whether to come forward with legislative proposals.


Page last modified: 14 January, 2010
Page published: 12 February, 2007