Earmarking and/or branding of sheep and cattle: changes to identification requirements

Page last updated: Monday, 6 December 2021 - 4:51pm

From 1 January 2022, earmarking of sheep and earmarking and/or branding of cattle (including buffalo) will be optional.

All NLIS tagging remains mandatory with a year of birth colour tag for sheep, or a white electronic device for cattle on the property of birth, however with changes to the timing of application for cattle.

Owners of cattle (and buffalo) will now need to apply an NLIS device by 6 months of age in the southwest land division, by 18 months of age outside of the southwest land division, or before leaving the property — whichever occurs first.

Following consultation undertaken by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in 2020, changes have been made to the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 for the identification of sheep and cattle (including buffalo). 

Sheep identification requirements

  • Earmarking of sheep is optional from 1 January 2022. This means that it is up to each owner to choose whether to earmark their sheep.
  • Some owners may wish to reduce the costs, labour, time and physical impacts on their stock by ceasing to earmark, while other owners may have reasons to retain earmarking as an additional form of identification, such as for farm management purposes.
  • Owners who continue to earmark will still be required to use the registered earmark allocated to them as listed on their PIC card. 
  • NLIS tagging on property of birth with an accredited year of birth coloured NLIS visual or electronic tag remains mandatory.
  • NLIS tagging with an additional pink tag prior to leaving any subsequent owner’s property remains mandatory.

Please refer to sheep identification and movement requirements webpage for more information.

Cattle (and buffalo) identification requirements

  • Earmarking and branding of cattle / buffalo are optional from 1 January 2022.  This means that it is up to each owner to choose whether to earmark and/or brand their stock.
  • Some owners may choose not to use their earmarks or brands, while other owners may have reasons to retain earmarking and branding as additional forms of identification, such as for farm management purposes.
  • Owners who continue to earmark or brand will still be required to use the registered earmark and/or stock brand as listed on their PIC card.
  • NLIS tagging with an accredited white NLIS electronic device remains mandatory on property of birth.
  • From 1 January 2022 the requirement for NLIS tagging of cattle will change to:
    • In the southwest land division (agricultural area): by 6 months of age or before they first leave the property, whichever occurs first
    • Outside the southwest land division (pastoral region): by 18 months of age or before they first leave the property, whichever occurs first.
  • NLIS tagging with an accredited orange NLIS device remains mandatory for any cattle not on property of birth and in absence of any other NLIS device.

Please refer to the cattle identification and movement requirements webpage for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do the changes mean?

Changes to the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 mean that it will be up to each owner to choose whether to apply earmarks and/or brands to their sheep or cattle.

If you no longer wish to earmark or brand your livestock, you don’t have to. DPIRD will no longer enforce their application as the legislation has been amended to make it optional.

If you find that there is benefit in applying earmarks or brands for your own farm management purposes, such as helping to visually distinguish between your livestock and your neighbours, or because you want to maintain as many ways of establishing ownership as possible, you may continue to earmark or brand.

NLIS tagging with an approved white NLIS electronic device for cattle and a year of birth coloured NLIS visual or electronic tag for sheep remains mandatory on property of birth.

NLIS tagging with an additional pink NLIS tag in the earmark ear of brought in sheep is still required prior to leaving a property they were not born on.

NLIS tagging with an accredited orange NLIS device remains mandatory for any cattle not on property of birth and in absence of any other NLIS device.

It is still illegal for people to tamper with registered identifiers or use anyone else’s registered identifiers.

What is staying the same?

While earmarking and branding are now optional for sheep, cattle and buffalo, DPIRD will continue to issue earmarks and brands to all registered stock owners, and continue to maintain the stock brand register.

The regulations maintain the same requirements for the correct application of earmarks and brands (registered identifiers), so owners who decide to earmark and/or brand will need to use the identifiers that have been allocated to them.

NLIS tagging, with an accredited white NLIS electronic device for cattle or an accredited year of birth coloured NLIS visual or electronic tag for sheep, remains mandatory on property of birth.

NLIS tagging with an additional pink NLIS tag in the earmark ear of brought in sheep is still required prior to leaving a property they were not born on.

NLIS tagging with an accredited orange NLIS device remains mandatory for any cattle not on property of birth and in absence of any other NLIS device. It is still an offence to use someone else’s identifiers or to apply identification marks that will cause confusion with someone else’s earmark or brand.

Why have these changes been introduced?

DPIRD protects the State’s biosecurity through administration of the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007. The ability to trace livestock is fundamental to biosecurity and underpins market access. Earmarks and brands have historically been used to support these goals; however, they are limited in that they can only help with identifying the original owner, as they do not reflect any changes in stock ownership or movements between properties.

Since the introduction of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS), which offers whole of life traceability, the benefits of earmarking and branding have decreased.

Given current rates of livestock movements (over 28 000 livestock are moved between properties every day), DPIRD no longer uses them for the purposes of traceability in species requiring NLIS tags. Therefore, earmarking or branding of sheep and cattle will be voluntary, given the lack of public good and onus on both government and industry.

DPIRD held a consultation survey to understand the views of industry and the public before introducing these changes. Of the 574 submissions that were received, 64% supported the proposal to make earmarking and branding optional. The Minister for Agriculture and Food approved making these practices optional for sheep, cattle and buffalo as it does not pose a risk to the State’s biosecurity but does support producer choice in how owners identify their livestock.

These changes were introduced through amendments to the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013, which were gazetted on 3 December 2021.

How do the changes impact NLIS identification requirements?

Sheep

There will be no changes to the current mandatory NLIS tagging requirements for sheep. They will continue to require a year of birth coloured NLIS tag bearing the owner’s brand or PIC, or electronic NLIS device, inserted in the appropriate ear for gender:

  • In the southwest land division (agricultural region): when lambs are weaned, by six months of age or prior to leaving the property, whichever occurs first.
  • Outside the southwest land division (pastoral region): when sheep are first shorn, or before they are moved from the property, whichever occurs first.
  • An additional pink NLIS tag in the earmark ear is still required to be applied prior to leaving any subsequent owner’s property.

Cattle

Cattle will still need to be identified with a white NLIS electronic device (ear tag or rumen bolus) on the property of birth or an orange NLIS device if they are on a property they were not born on and do not already have an NLIS device. The only change to NLIS requirements is that cattle will now need to be identified with an NLIS device.

  • In the southwest land division (agricultural region): by six months of age, or before first leaving the property; whichever occurs first.
  • Outside the southwest land division (pastoral region): by 18 months of age, or before first leaving the property; whichever occurs first.

I’m worried about stock theft and how we identify the owners of livestock without earmarks or brands

It is understood that earmarks and brands are useful for some livestock owners as part of farm management practices, particularly breeders and those in pastoral areas. The move to make earmarking of sheep and earmarking and branding of cattle optional is intended to provide owners the choice to use these tools for their own stock or not.

If maintaining multiple forms of identification is important to you – be it to support proof of ownership, help discourage stock theft or help with easy visual identification of livestock – owners may continue to earmark sheep, and earmark or brand cattle, if they want to.

To support this, the current stock owner registration system will be maintained and every registered owner will still be given their own unique brand and earmark. It will remain an offence to use someone else’s registered identifier, or to create marks that will cause confusion with these identifiers (e.g. tampering with earmarks).

Does this mean I won’t be able to earmark or brand anymore?

No. DPIRD will continue to maintain the register of owners of livestock and issue a unique earmark and brand to registered owners, who will be able to choose whether they want to use them for their sheep and cattle (in a manner appropriate for the species). 

Will these changes mean I can stop earmarking or branding my other livestock (e.g. horses, pigs, deer and alpaca) too?

No. The changes apply to sheep and cattle (including buffalo) only. Horses will still require a brand or an approved identifier (e.g. microchip), while deer, alpaca, llamas and vicuna must continue to be identified with a brand (on an ear tag) and/or earmark, or an approved identifier as appropriate. It is already optional to earmark goats, and they also must still be identified with NLIS tags like sheep.

Pigs retain the need for either an NLIS tag or slap brand tattoo as appropriate, prior to leaving a property.

More information

For more information on the identification requirements of livestock:

w: agric.wa.gov.au/livestock-id

e: nlis@dpird.wa.gov.au

t: 1300 WA NLIS (1300 926 547)

Contact information

Livestock ownership, identification and traceability
1300 926 547