NLIS and identification - sheep

Page last updated: Monday, 20 May 2019 - 10:40am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Identification of livestock is required by law under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 [BAM (IMSA) Regulations].

The regulations also require the use of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS).

Identifying your livestock assists in maintaining Australia's biosecurity systems that assure trading partners of our ability to trace disease and residue issues effectively. It supports our export, chilled and domestic markets. It also deters theft and assists in recovering stolen animals.

Owners must register

All sheep owners must be registered with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD). On registration you will be issued registered identifiers (stock brand, earmark and pig tattoo) and a property identification code (PIC) for the property where the animals are kept. A PIC card is issued that lists the properties that the owner has nominated to run stock on and the registered identifiers for use with the stock.

For more information see:

Identification requirements

Sheep in Western Australia must be identified with the registered earmark listed on your PIC card and with an accredited NLIS ear tag with either the brand or PIC of the current owner.

Registered stock brand - two letters and one number

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 ear tags to indicate ownership. Using your brand on your NLIS tags (and not your PIC) means that sheep only need to be re-tagged when ownership changes, and not with a change in PIC.

Registered earmark - combination of two shaped notches

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 registration certificate.

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 and may belong to someone else.

Sheep only need to be earmarked once in their life. Approved earmarking pliers must be used, which are available from rural suppliers or online directly from the manufacturer. 


Visual 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 and the NLIS logo before moving from the property.

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

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.

If using visual tags, when sheep are sold, the new owner must apply an additional pink NLIS tag, imprinted with their brand or PIC, in the ear opposite the year of birth coloured tag (in the earmark ear).

Sheep Ear Tagging

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 only necessary when the stock is moved to a property with a different brand. In most cases, this occurs when they are sold to a new owner. This is the least time-consuming option.

Electronic devices

NLIS accredited radio frequency identifier (RFID) tags, also known as NLIS electronic devices, 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 devices are fitted, the RFID is scanned by a reader when the sheep are moved and its details are used to record the movement to the new PIC 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 identify those animals with a pink NLIS visual tag prior to them leaving the property.

South West land division

Sheep in the South West land division must be earmarked when they are weaned, before they are moved from the property, or before they reach six months of age, whichever occurs first.

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

Outside the South West land division

Sheep outside the South West land division must be earmarked when they are first shorn or before they are moved 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 moved from the property. It is advisable to earmark and tag lambs at the same time.

Identification exemptions

  • Unweaned lambs - if moved with their correctly identified mother between properties with the same PIC, unweaned sheep do not need to be identified.
  • Breed societies - The BAM (IMSA) Regulations allow an 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. See Approved identifiers for livestock for the application procedure and currently approved breed societies. 

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

Introduced sheep

Purchased or introduced sheep that are already earmarked do not have to be re-identified; you must have documentation to show ownership.  Purchased or introduced stock not earmarked (that is, from interstate) must be identified with the new owner’s earmark within 14 days of arrival. You are required to fit a pink NLIS visual tag to the sheep before moving them off the property, even if it is to another property you own. It is however advisable to pink tag sheep on arrival to assist in owner identification if animals stray. 

If introduced sheep have NLIS electronic devices and you wish to use these, they need to be scanned and transferred to your PIC on the NLIS database. If you choose not to use the existing electronic devices, you must fit pink visual tags to those sheep.

If sheep do not have an NLIS identifier when you take possession, a pink visual tag with your brand or PIC should be fitted as soon as practicable to the earmark ear.

It is illegal to remove or replace NLIS tags.

Identification equipment

Please 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 or online directly from the manufacturers

Moving sheep

Sheep must not be moved off a property without having correct NLIS identification bearing the brand or PIC of the property, an earmark and a completed waybill or equivalent (NVD/Waybill). These requirements ensure that animals can be traced in the event of disease outbreak or chemical residue incident. The waybill provides proof that stock are being moved with the owner’s consent and it must remain with the stock while they are being transported. The documents must be kept for seven years.

To register with the LPA and become accredited to access the commercially preferred National Vendor Declaration waybills, contact 1800 683 111, option 1, or go online at the Meat and Livestock Australia website.

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

Sheep must also have their movements to a different PIC updated on the NLIS database.

NLIS database

Movements of sheep to a property with a different PIC must be recorded on the NLIS database within 48 hours of arrival. This is the responsibility of the receiver of the stock. They do not have to physically do it themselves but they must ensure it is done. For more information, see the webpage: Creating an account and using the NLIS database.

Sheep with visual NLIS tags are recorded as mob-based movements (MBM).

The following information is recorded in an upload to the database:

  • originating PIC/PIC of consignment
  • the brand or PIC on the tags
  • destination PIC
  • number of sheep
  • the length of time the sheep have been on consigning PIC
  • waybill number and
  • date of movement

The brand on all the visual tags should be that of the current owner, be the same for all sheep in the consignment and relate to the PIC of the property of dispatch on the NVD/waybill.

Sheep fitted with NLIS electronic devices can be transferred individually as with cattle.

If sheep are bought from a saleyard or public auction, such as, an on-farm ram sale or clearing sale, the saleyard operators will transer 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 and confirm that it has been done.

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 $20 000.

Contact information

Livestock ownership, identification and traceability
1300 926 547