Livestock identification and movement: cattle and buffalo

Page last updated: Thursday, 8 February 2024 - 10:31am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.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 also deters theft and assists in recovering stolen animals.

Where cattle are mentioned, buffalo are inferred unless specified.

Owners must register

All cattle owners must be registered with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).

There are now two avenues to register: via the new online Brands Portal or with the existing paper-based applications. The Brands Portal is a secure website that allows Beekeepers, Livestock owners and supply chain location operators to manage their registrations online. It is the preferred option for submitting registrations. To register as an owner of stock, login to the Brands Portal online. 

You will be taken to the Welcome page which will guide you through the Digital Identity setup and Brands Portal login procedures. If you are unable or prefer not to use the Brands Portal, you can download and send in the completed paper forms via email or post.

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:

Sample PIC card
PIC card

Identification requirements

Cattle in Western Australia must be identified with an approved NLIS electronic device.

Cattle may also be identified with the registered brand and/or earmark listed on your PIC card. Branding and earmarking are optional, but if you do choose to use either or both of these types of identifiers, they must be applied in the approved manner — in the correct location and orientation.

NLIS identification

Electronic devices

The BAM (IMSA) Regulations underpin the NLIS, requiring cattle to have an approved NLIS electronic device that is recorded as they move to different locations.

NLIS identification can be either an accredited electronic device fitted to the ear, or a rumen bolus, which is inserted into the reticulum. The bolus comes with an ear tag to indicate its presence. The device enables individual cattle or buffalo to be tracked from property of birth to slaughter or export.

  • An NLIS ear device or rumen bolus tag is always fitted to the animal’s right ear.
  • A white (breeder) device should be fitted to cattle on their property of birth.
  • An orange (post-breeder) device should be fitted to cattle without an existing NLIS device on a property other than where they were born.

Only one device is required as its details are updated on the database as ownership/location changes.

South west land division

Cattle in the south west land division must be fitted with an NLIS electronic device by six months of age, or before being moved from the property, whichever occurs first.

Outside the south west land division

Cattle outside the south west land division must be fitted with an NLIS electronic device by 18 months of age, or before being moved from the property, whichever occurs first.

Identification exemptions

Unweaned calves do not need to be identified with an NLIS device if moved with their correctly identified mother between properties with the same PIC.

Some cattle can be too difficult or dangerous to handle. A permit can be issued by DPIRD to move the animal somewhere to be safely identified or moved directly to slaughter. This permit is conditional on the destination manager accepting stock under permit and the stock involved being clearly identified with a paint mark.

Registered stock brand — two letters and one number

Brand on cattle rump
If you choose to brand your cattle it must be applied on the left rump or shoulder

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.

If you choose to brand your cattle, it must be applied as either a freeze or fire brand on the left rump or shoulder. Animals should only be branded by an experienced operator.

A brand must measure at least 150 millimetres long and 50mm high

Firebrands can be applied to horns of buffalo, but not cattle.

Registered earmark — combination of two shaped notches

Your earmark is a combination of two specified shape notches taken out of the ear in the allocated location.

When the registered earmark is used, it must be applied to the ear nominated on your PIC card 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.

Positions of an earmark
Diagram showing position of an earmark


Diagram showing the correct method of applying an earmark
Correct method of applying an earmark
Diagram showing the incorrect method of applying an earmark
Incorrect method of applying an earmark

Male and female cattle you breed will be earmarked in the same ear – both left or both right, as specified on your brand certificate and PIC card. 

Earmarks must be at least 12mm in height at the maximum point, applied using approved earmarking pliers which are available from rural suppliers or online direct from the manufacturer.

Spayed females

Spayed females must be marked with a 20-40mm diameter circular hole in the ear that is not designated for the earmark.

Approved identifiers

The BAM (IMSA) Regulations allow an approved breed society mark to be used instead of the owner’s registered brand or 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.

These owners must still be registered as an owner of stock with DPIRD and stock must still have an NLIS electronic device.

Introduced cattle and buffalo

Earmarked cattle cannot have another earmark applied, however if owners wish to re-brand newly acquired stock, their registered brand must be applied immediately below the existing brand.

If purchased or introduced stock are not branded or earmarked, the owner may choose to identify them with their allocated brand or earmark.

If cattle do not have an NLIS device, a device of the appropriate colour should be fitted as soon as practical:

  • white if on the property of birth
  • orange if not on property of birth
  • orange if any doubt about it being on the property of birth.

It is illegal to remove or replace NLIS devices unless they are not functioning. Make sure the scanner is fully charged and operational before removing devices that do not scan.

Identification equipment

Please note the following:

  • Equipment for applying the registered brand or earmark must not be removed from the property/ies with the PIC they are registered to without a permit from DPIRD.
  • NLIS electronic devices registered to a specific PIC can only be applied to animals while on the property registered to that PIC, unless a permit has been issued by an inspector.
  • NLIS electronic devices cannot be taken to a saleyard or similar facilities to be applied to cattle unless a permit has been issued by an inspector.
  • NLIS devices cannot be sold privately; contact the WA Cattle NLIS Helpdesk if you have surplus devices.

All identification equipment can be purchased through rural suppliers or online directly from the manufacturers.

Scanning wands

Scanning wands are recommended to record NLIS electronic device numbers accurately and safely. Wands scan the 16 character code, which can then be uploaded  directly onto the NLIS database without transcription errors.

Wands are available for hire from some Community Resource Centres (CRC) or rural suppliers - refer below:

Locality/organisation Contact number Locality/organisation Contact number

Boddington CRC

9883 8246

Moora CRC

9653 1053

Boyup Brook CRC

9765 1169

Mt Barker (Wilson Inlet CC)

9851 2697

Bridgetown CRC

9761 2712

Nannup CRC

9756 3022

Cunderdin CRC

9635 1784

Northcliffe CRC

9776 7330

Denmark CRC

9848 2842

Pemberton CRC

9776 1745

Donnybrook CRC

9731 2177

Pingelly CRC

9887 1409

Frankland CRC

9855 2310

Roebourne LCDC

9143 7000

Gingin CRC

9575 1253

Serpentine-Jarrahdale CRC

9525 5917

Harvey CRC

9729 1669

Toodyay CRC

9574 5357

Jerramungup CRC

9835 1630

Walpole CRC

9840 1395

Katanning Neighbour Centre

9821 4433

Waroona CRC

9733 3011

Lyndon LCDC (Williambury Station)

9943 0541

Wellstead CRC

0488 406 328

Mingenew CRC

9928 1264

York CRC

9641 2328

Moving cattle or buffalo

Cattle or buffalo must not be moved off a property without an NLIS electronic device and a completed waybill or equivalent (NVD/waybill).

The movement to a different PIC must be updated on the NLIS database within 48 hours of arrival at that PIC. 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 owner or person in charge of the stock at the property of dispatch has the responsibility to accurately complete the waybill and give it to the transporter before the stock are moved. This may not be the current owner if ownership has changed on property prior to transport.

The documents must be completed in triplicate and all copies kept for seven years. The original must travel with the stock and be handed to the consignee, or recipient of the stock, at the destination. The carrier retains the first copy and the second copy remains with the consigning owner.

An NVD/waybill is a combined form that records cattle movement information  and also provides additional information about the food safety and health status of the stock. An NVD/waybill is required whenever livestock are moved for sale, export or slaughter.

To become accredited with the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program to access the commercially preferred National Vendor Declaration waybills, contact 1800 683 111 or go online at the Meat and Livestock Australia website. The NVD/waybills are supplied pre-printed with the owner’s PIC as either a book (at a cost) or as an electronic form (free).

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

Plain waybill books are available from the Brands office on 1300 926 547 from Monday to Friday, 8.30am-4.30pm AWST (excluding public holidays). They are used in particular circumstances when an NVD/waybill is not required, e.g. transporting an animal to the vet or agricultural show.

Stock in transit can be inspected for correct identification and waybills by a DPIRD inspector or police officer at any time.

Regular movement between properties with the same PIC

The PIC card, or a full copy of it, can replace the need to fill out a waybill each time stock move between properties with the same PIC.

Properties involved must be listed on the card and stock being moved need to be identified to that PIC/brand. It also allows movement of branding and earmarking equipment between the properties.

NLIS database

Cattle arriving on a PIC must have their NLIS device scanned and transferred to the new PIC 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. 

To access the NLIS database you first need to create an account.  For more information refer to the NLIS user guides.  Once you are registered you can login to the NLIS database to transfer stock.

 If cattle are bought from a saleyard or public auction, such as a trade show, on-farm bull sale or clearing sale, the saleyard operators will transfer the stock to the buyer’s PIC. This is the one instance where the receiver does not have to do the transfer, but they should 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 NLIS electronic devices
  • Removing NLIS identification
  • Trading or moving animals without correct NLIS identification
  • Failure to transfer animals on the NLIS database after movement to a different PIC
  • Applying your earmark, brand or NLIS devices to animals on another person’s property
  • Using another person’s registered brand or earmark
  • Possessing another person's registered branding or earmarking equipment.

The penalty for a breach of this legislation may be a fine of up to $20 000.

WA Cattle NLIS Helpdesk

The NLIS helpdesk is funded by the WA cattle industry.

For information or assistance with using the database, please contact: 
1300 926 547 (1300 WA NLIS) (follow the prompts for cattle enquiries) 

Contact information

Livestock ownership, identification and traceability
1300 926 547