NLIS and identification - sheep

Sheep in Western Australia are required to be identified with an earmark and a National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) approved tag with either the brand or property identification code (PIC) of the current owner.

Identifying sheep correctly maintains the traceability and biosecurity of WA's sheep flock and supports our live sheep export trade, valued at $188 million annually.

On the property of birth, identify sheep with an NLIS year-of-birth coloured tag. Introduced sheep require a NLIS pink tag. Sheep movements must be recorded on the NLIS database.

Owners must register

All sheep owners must be registered as an owner of stock and have a current PIC for the property where their animals are kept. Your registered identifiers (stock brand, earmark and pig tattoo) are on the PIC card that is sent out to you when to you register.

For more information see:

Stock to be identified

Identification of livestock is required under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 [BAM (IMSA) regulations]. Identifying your livestock correctly assists in maintaining Australia's biosecurity systems that assure trading partners of our ability to trace disease and residue issues effectively. It also deters theft and assists in recovering stolen animals.

The regulations require compliance with the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS). Sheep must have the correct NLIS identification and their movements to a property with a different PIC must be recorded on the NLIS database.

Identification methods

Sheep must be identified with the registered earmark listed on your PIC card.

South West Land Division

All sheep in the South West Land Division must be earmarked before weaning, six months of age or being removed from the property, whichever occurs first.

They must be fitted with an NLIS ear tag printed with the current owner’s brand or PIC before being removed from the property. It is advisable to earmark and tag lambs at the same time.

Pastoral areas:

Sheep in pastoral areas must be earmarked by the first shearing or before leaving the property, whichever occurs first.

They must be fitted with an NLIS ear tag printed with the current owner’s brand or PIC before being removed from the property. It is advisable to earmark and tag lambs at the same time.

NLIS tags

The BAM (IMSA) regulations underpin the NLIS, requiring sheep to have an approved NLIS ear tag displaying the owner’s registered brand or PIC before moving from the property.

When the animal is on the property of birth, the NLIS tag that is colour coded for the year of birth should be used. This should be placed in the right ear for females and left ear for males.

When sheep are sold, the new owner must apply a pink NLIS visual tag, imprinted with their brand or PIC, in the ear opposite the year of birth coloured tag (in the earmark ear).

Image of three sheep heads showing the correct way of tagging sheep with year of birth colour tags; left ear for male sheep and right ear for female sheep. Pink post breeder tag is attached on opposite ear of colour of birth tag.
All tags must be embossed with your registered brand and NLIS logo

Image shows approved sheep year of birth colour of year system.
Sheep NLIS identification tag - approved year of  birth colour system. The year of birth colour system has eight colours. The colours are black, white, orange, light green, purple, yellow, red and sky blue, in that order. Each colour designates a year on a rolling cycle starting with the colour black and ending with sky blue, and then returning to black. Pink is used for post-breeder tags to show that sheep have been brought onto the property, usually from a different owner.

Owners using a PIC on their visual tags must be aware that if they move their stock between their properties that have different PICs, for example, agistment blocks, then they will have to re-tag those animals according to PIC of location. Using the brand on the visual tags means that re-tagging is usually only necessary when the stock are moved to a property with a different brand. In most cases, this only occurs when they are sold to a new owner. This is the least time-consuming option.

NLIS accredited radio frequency identifier (RFID) tags, also known as electronic tags, are available for use. These tags have the PIC of the property they are purchased for on the outside of the tag as part of an individual 16 character identification number. They can only be used on this property.

If electronic tags are fitted, when the sheep are moved, the RFID is scanned by a reader and its details are used to record the movement on the NLIS database and update ownership details. No additional tags are required. If an owner chooses not to use existing electronic identification on stock they purchase, they must then tag those animals with a pink NLIS visual tag.

NLIS tags must be purchased from an approved manufacturer. For a list of NLIS accredited tags, see the webpage: NLIS accredited tags – sheep.

Registered stock brand

Your registered brand consists of two letters and a number. One of the letters may be ‘lazy’, that is, lying on its side to the left. Your brand can be printed on your NLIS eartags to indicate ownership. Using your brand on your NLIS tags means that sheep only need to be re-tagged when ownership changes, and not with a change in PIC.


Your earmark is a combination of two shaped notches taken out of the ear. The registered earmark must be placed in the left ear for females and the right ear for males, and in the correct locations on the ear as illustrated on your PIC card.

Apply the earmark exactly as described on the PIC card. The appearance will alter if it is applied to the ear from a different position, for example, from behind the ear instead of from the front. This will not be your legal earmark (see Figures 1, 2a and 2b) and may belong someone else.

Sheep only need to be earmarked once in their life. Approved earmarking pliers must be used, which are available from rural suppliers. The earmarking pliers must not be removed from the property/ies with the PIC they are registered to without a permit from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).

NLIS database

Movements of sheep to a property with a different PIC must be recorded on the NLIS database within 48 hours of arrival. The receiver of the stock is responsible to ensure this is done, even if they do not do it themselves.

Sheep movements are recorded as mob-based movements (MBM) where the originating PIC, the brand or PIC on the tags, destination PIC, number of sheep, waybill number and date are uploaded. The brand on all the tags should be the same and relate to the PIC of the property of dispatch.

Sheep fitted with RFID tags can be transferred individually as with cattle.

For more information, see the webpage: Creating an account and using the NLIS database.

If sheep are bought from a saleyard or public auction, for example, on-farm ram sale or clearing sale, the saleyard operators will record the movement of the stock to the buyer’s PIC. This is the one instance where the receiver does not have to do the transfer, however they should still check that it has been done.

Introduced sheep

Purchased/introduced sheep that are already earmarked do not have to be re-identified - you must have documentation to show ownership. You are required to fit a pink NLIS tag to the sheep before moving them from the property, even if it is to another property you own. It is advisable to pink tag on arrival to assist in identification if animals stray.

If introduced sheep have electronic tags and you wish to use these, they need to be scanned and transferred to your PIC on the database. Keep a record of the PIC on the electronic tags, as they will be needed to complete any future waybills. If the electronic tags were not fitted on your property, the PIC on those tags must be recorded on every waybill. If you choose not to use the existing electronic tags, you must fit pink visual tags to those sheep.

Purchased/introduced stock not earmarked (that is, from interstate) must be identified with the new owner’s earmark within 14 days of arrival.

If sheep do not have an NLIS tag, a pink tag with your brand or PIC should be fitted.

It is illegal to remove or replace NLIS tags.

Identification equipment

Note the following:

  • Equipment for applying the earmark must not be removed from the property/ies with the PIC they are registered to without a permit from DPIRD.
  • NLIS tags with a specific PIC or brand can only be applied to animals while on the property/ies registered to that PIC unless a permit has been issued by an inspector.
  • NLIS tags cannot be taken to a saleyard or similar facilities to be applied to sheep unless a permit has been issued by an inspector.
  • All identification equipment including tags can be purchased through rural suppliers.

Identification exemptions


If moved with their correctly identified mother between properties with the same PIC, lambs do not need to be identified.

Studs and breed societies

The BAM (IMSA) regulations allow the approved breed society mark to be used instead of the owner’s earmark. Breed societies must have their preferred identification approved by the Registrar of Stock and Apiaries before using this option.

All stud stock must meet NLIS requirements and display correct NLIS identification.

For more information, see Approved identifiers for livestock.

Offences under the BAM (IMSA) regulations 2013

  • possessing stock that are not legally identified
  • using another person’s registered brand or earmark
  • possessing another person’s registered earmarking equipment
  • applying your earmark or NLIS tags to animals on another person’s property
  • using another person's NLIS tags
  • removing NLIS ear tags
  • trading/moving animals without correct identification
  • failure to transfer animals on the NLIS database after movement to a different PIC.

The penalty for a breach of this legislation may be a fine up to $5000.

Moving sheep

Sheep must not be moved off a property without having an NLIS tag bearing the brand or PIC of the property, an earmark and a completed waybill or equivalent. These requirements ensure that animals can be traced in the event of disease outbreak or chemical residue incident. The waybill also provides proof that stock are being moved with the owner’s consent and it must remain with the stock while they are being transported.

Sheep movements must be recorded on the NLIS database.

For more information, see the webpage: Moving livestock in Western Australia.

Contact information

Beth Green
+61 (0)8 9753 0302
Page last updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2018 - 9:19am