National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) - cattle and buffalo

All cattle in Western Australia (WA) are required to be earmarked or branded by the age of six months in the south west and by 18 months in the north, or before leaving the property, whichever occurs first. All cattle require a National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) electronic device before leaving any property.

The NLIS provides for individual traceability of cattle and buffalo from the property of birth to slaughter or export. The movements of each animal must be updated on a national database when they arrrive at a new destination.

Markets require stock identification for traceability

Identification of livestock is required by law under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 — in short, the BAM (IMSA) regulations.

The regulations also require the use of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS). Cattle and buffalo must have the correct NLIS identification and their movements from property to property recorded on the NLIS database.

Stock traceability is essential to maintain access to export markets. It allows stock to be traced for disease or residue purposes and deters stock theft.

Where cattle are mentioned, buffalo are inferred unless specified.

Identification methods

All cattle owners must be registered and have a current property identification code (PIC) (refer to Registering as an owner of stock or as a beekeeper). Your registered identifiers — stock brand and earmark — are on your PIC card.

Cattle must be branded or earmarked as described on your PIC card:

  • South west land division — brand or earmark by six months of age or before being removed from the property, whichever occurs first
  • Pastoral areas — brand or earmark by 18 months of age or before being removed from the property, whichever occurs first
  • All cattle and buffalo require a functioning NLIS electronic device before leaving the property, regardless of age.

Brand — two letters and one number:

  • A brand must measure at least 150 millimetres long and 50mm high
  • Brand on left rump or shoulder
  • Firebrands can be applied to horns of buffalo, but not cattle
  • Animals should only be branded by an experienced operator.

Earmark — combination of two shaped notches

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

  • Males and females will be earmarked in the same ear.
  • The earmark must be at least 12mm in height at its maximum point.
  • 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 (e.g. from behind the ear instead of from the front). This will not be your legal earmark.
  • Approved earmarking pliers must be used.

Spayed females

In addition to the above requirements, spayed females must also be marked with a 20-40mm diameter circular hole in the ear not designated for the earmark.

NLIS electronic devices

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 eartag to indicate its presence. (See page link to NLIS accredited devices). Please note the following:

  • 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 before moving from their property of birth.
  • An orange (post-breeder) device should be fitted to cattle without an existing NLIS device when leaving a property other than where they were born.
  • Only one device is required as ownership/location changes are recorded on the database.

NLIS database

Cattle arriving on a property/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. More information is available at NLIS database — creating an account and user guides or log on to the NLIS database.

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.

Cattle and buffalo already identified

Purchased or introduced cattle that are already branded or earmarked do not have to be re-identified; you must have documentation to show ownership.

If owners wish to re-brand newly acquired stock, their registered brand must be applied immediately below the existing brand. Purchased or introduced stock not branded or earmarked (that is, from interstate) must be identified with the new owner’s brand or earmark within 14 days of arrival.

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

  • 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 the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA).
  • NLIS electronic devices registered to a specific PIC can only be applied to animals while on the property(s) registered under 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.
  • NLIS devices cannot be sold privately; contact the WA Cattle NLIS Helpdesk if you have surplus devices.
  • All equipment can be purchased through rural retailers.

Scanning wands

Scanning wands are recommended to record ID numbers accurately and safely. Wands scan the 16 character code electronically, which can then be uploaded onto the NLIS database. Wands are available for hire from Community Resource Centres across regional WA. See the table at the end of this article for a list of locations and contact numbers of centres offering this service.

Community Resource Centres offering scanning wands for hire
Location Phone number
Augusta 9758 0002
Boddington 9883 8246
Boyup Brook 9765 1169
Bridgetown 9761 2712
Bullsbrook Rural Centre 9267 9218
Corrigin 9063 2778
Cowaramup (H&R Group) 9755 5279
Cunderin 9635 1784
Dalwallinu 9661 1802
Denmark 9848 2842
Donnybrook 9731 2177
Frankland 9855 2310
Gingin 9575 1253
Harvey 9729 1669
Jerramungup 9835 1630
Katanning 9821 4433
Lake Grace 9865 1470
Lyndon LCDC 9943 0541
Marble Bar 9176 1375
Mingenew 9928 1264
Moora 9653 1053
Mt Barker (Wilson Inlet CC) 9851 2697
Nannup 9756 3022
Northcliffe 9776 7330
Pemberton 9776 1745
Pingelly 9887 1409
Ravensthorpe 9838 1240
Roebourne LCDC 9143 7000
Serpentine Jarrahdale 9525 5917
Toodyay 9574 5357

Identification exemptions

  • Calves — if moved with their correctly identified mother between properties with the same PIC, they 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 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 procedure and currently approved identifiers. All stud stock must meet NLIS requirements and display an NLIS electronic device.
  • Difficult animals — Some cattle can be too difficult to handle. If they are too big for the crush or pose a safety risk to handlers or themselves, a permit can be issued by DAFWA to move the animal somewhere to be:
    • safely identified
    • moved for slaughter
    • moved for sale for slaughter only.

This permit is conditional on the destination manager accepting stock under permit and the stock involved being clearly identified with a paint brand.

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 branding or earmarking equipment
  • applying your earmark, brand or NLIS devices to animals on another person’s property
  • using another person's NLIS electronic devices
  • removing NLIS ear tags
  • trading or moving animals without correct NLIS 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 of up to $5000.

Moving cattle or buffalo

No cattle or buffalo can be moved off a property without having either a brand or an earmark, an NLIS electronic device and a completed waybill or equivalent. This enables animals to 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 stock being transported.

Cattle and buffalo must also have their movements updated on the NLIS database.

WA Cattle NLIS Helpdesk

For more information or assistance with using the database, please call the WA Cattle NLIS Helpdesk:

Telephone: +61 (0)8 9780 6222
Mobile: +61 (0)427 089 860

See also:

Contact information

Beth Green
+61 (0)8 9753 0302
Page last updated: Thursday, 20 April 2017 - 12:18pm