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Ewe with triplets
Select based on performance

 Which lamb is better?
Which lamb is better?

Almost a yearling
Two kinds of ear tags

 Allflex sheep tag
Allflex® sheep tag

Black ram
Button (L) and swivel (R) tag

 Snapp tag
Snapp tag

 Scrapie ear tag
Scrapie ear tag (L)

 Neck chain
Neck chain

 Neck strap
Neck strap

Paint branded ewes
Paint branded ewes

temporary ID
Paint branded lambs
Same number as dam

 Too much ID
Too much ID

 Pocket record book
Pocket record keeping book

 Weighing lambs
Weighing lambs

 



Animal identification and record keeping

Record keeping is an important aspect of sheep production. Performance record keeping helps to identify which lambs should be kept as replacements, which ewes should be kept or culled, and which rams sire the best lambs. The National Scrapie Eradication Programs requires producers to keep records on animal disposition.

Animal Identification

Record keeping begins with individual animal identification. The ideal sheep identification is permanent, resistant to loss or tearing, easy to read from a distance, easy to apply, and gives all of the information we desire at a glance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Choice of identification will depend upon the producer's preference, needs, cost, and retention rate in the animal.

Ear tags
There are many methods to identify sheep and lambs, with ear tags being the most common. Ear tags come in many different sizes, designs, and brands. There are brass, aluminum, and plastic tags; button tags, rotary tags, swivel tags, and looping tags; DNA tags, and RFID (electronic tags).

Brass tags are ideal for tagging small or newborn lambs. They are light, so they will not pull down on the ear. However, the lamb must be caught in order to read its tag. Metal tags are the cheapest and easiest to apply, but they are more likely to be ripped out and cause a reaction in the ear.

Swivel and looping tags work well for lambs and are easier to read than brass tags. Temple tags have an open end to prevent ripping of the ear. However, you must punch a hole in the ear before inserting the tag. Allflex® and Duflex™ tags are two-piece, plastic tags that come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. They are easier to read than other tag types. Retention is fairly good, but declines with larger tag sizes. Most companies make smaller tags for sheep and lambs.


Scrapie identification
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires almost all sheep and lambs to have premise identification ear tags before leaving their farm of origin (premise). The ear tags carry the owner's premise identification number on one side and a sequential number on the other side, which can be used for individual record-keeping. In addition to applying tags, producers are required to keep records for five years after the animals have been sold.

To get a premise identification number and order free ear tags, producers should call toll-free 1-866-873-2824. Producers participating in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock certification program are required to identify all sheep over 1 year of age with tamper-proof ear tags, tattoos, or microchips.

National Animal ID
A national systems for animal identification is still being developed. Its purpose is to trace movements of animals, in the event of a disease outbreak or act of bioterrorism. Most other developed countries have similar systems in place. For sheep, the form of identification will probably be an ear tag that is cross-linked with the scrapie eradication program.


Other methods of identification

Other methods of sheep identification include DNA tags, tattoos, ear notches, neck chains, and electronic ID. DNA tags remove ear tissue during installation and automatically store it in a sealed, number tube, for later submission to a lab. The DNA tags are ideal for scrapie genotyping and are more economical than drawing blood for genotyping.

Tattoos
Tattoos are the best permanent form of identification. They also do not harm the animal's appearance or reduce its value in any way. The numbers and letters are made of needles that place small holes in the ears in their shape and the ink is applied to the holes so that the number is readable. The biggest disadvantage to tattooing is that tattoos are difficult to read from a distance. It is usually necessary to catch the animal.

Ear notching
An ear notch is a V-shaped notch placed somewhere in the ear. While swine producers use ear notching as a complete animal identification system, ear notching in sheep is more commonly used for simple differentiation. For example, ear notching can be used to denote birth type and/or week of birth. Ear notches can be used to mark ewes for culling.

Neck chains or straps
Neck chains or straps are the least used form of identification in sheep. They are most common with dairy animals. Neck chains have a numbered tag that corresponds to that animal's identification number.

The chain most be positioned around the animals neck tight enough not to fall off, but loose enough not to allow for easy breathing and growth of young animals. Growing animals need to be inspected frequently. Chains can be caught on protrusions that may choke an animal. They are difficult to see when animals are in a group. They are not a form of permanent identification since they can be easily removed.

Electronic ID
The number of animals being identified with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is rapidly growing. Electronic ear tags are the most common form of electronic ID. A microchip and coiled copper antenna is encapsulated in a standard plastic ear tag. A rumen bolus is administered using a balling gun and resides in the reticulum of the animal. It is easily removed by the packer and can be recycled.

Microchips are a form of identification that involves the implanting of an electronic chip with a miniature radio transponder and antenna, under the skin of an animal. The most common implant site is between the shoulder blades or near the base of the ear. The transponder can also come in a form that can be ingested by the animal.

Ear tagging
Ear tags should be placed between the middle and lower cartilage ribs in the ear and far enough out on the ear to allow for later wool growth. In addition to identifying an individual animal, ear tags can contain other useful information about the animal. The first number on an ear tag can be used to denote the animal's birth year.

Different colored tags can be used for different birth years, breed types, sires, or owners. The name or registration prefix of the producer or farm can be written or imprinted on the tag. Ear tags can be inserted in different ears (right or left) to denote birth type, sex of the lamb, breed type, or sire.


Temporary ID
Sometimes, temporary identification is desirable in a sheep flock. Paint branding; marking crayons, sticks, and rattles; and spray markers can all be used to identify sheep and lambs for periods of several weeks to several months. Marks from marking crayons will usually last for several weeks, whereas paint brands tend to last for many months.

Some producers will paint brand or spray paint a ewe's number on her back or side for easy identification. The same number can be put on the lambs' backs so that ewe-lamb pairs can easily be identified. Ordinary spray paint sheep never be applied to sheep, especially wooled sheep.

Paint brands allow for quick identification. They are usually used in conjunction with another type of identification. Paint branding is useful for sales and exhibition because it is temporary identification that is easily visible and easy to identify animals in a sale. Paint branding is also useful when offspring need to be identified with their parents.

Many producers paint brand ewes and lambs before they leave the jug. Paint numbers are usually applied on the left side for consistency in reading. When paint branding wool-producing sheep, only fluids which have been made specifically for sheep should be applied (e.g. Etro-Mark®). Heavy applications should be avoided because excess paint makes it difficult to scour the wool. Ideally, wool producers should avoid the use of paint brands on their sheep.

Paint sticks, Chalks, and Sprays have many uses for temporarily marking animals and come in many colors so you can use them at the same time for different IDs. Sheep are commonly marked with these on the back or head. They are commonly used to mark pregnant and open ewes during pregnancy checks, as well as to mark animals that need treated or have been treated or need sorted off from a group and about anything else you can think of.


Production Records

Certain basic records should be kept to monitor flock performance. These include sire and dam, lambing date, sex of lambs, and ID of lambs. You may also want to record comments about lambing ease, the ewe's mothering ability, and the vigor of the lambs. Many producers record birth weights of lambs.

Sample barn record

Date lambed
Sire
Dam
Sex of lamb
Birth type
Birth weight
Lamb ID
Comments
2/26/09
Duke
309
R
2
9.0
901
.
2/26/09
Duke
309
E
2
8.5
902
.
3/2/09
Lincoln
92
E
3
7.0
903
.
3/2/09
Lincoln
92
E
3
8.0
904
.
3/2/09
Lincoln
92
E
3
7.6
905
.
3/3/09
Duke
22
R
2
10.0
906
.
3/3/09
Duke
22
R
2
**
**
Stillborn
               


Sample individual ewe record
Ewe ID
7062
Scrapie ID
483
Breed
Katahdin
Date of birth
3/15/07
Sire
524
Dam
513
Type of birth
2 - 2
Birth weight
8.0
Weaning weight
70.0
 
Date lambed
Sire
Sex of lambs
Birth weight
Type of birth
Type of rearing
Lamb ID
Date weaned
Weaning weight
Comments
5/1/08
607
R
8.5
1
1
750
7/15
68.0
sold
3/20/09
559
R
9.0
2
2
934
.
.
.
3/20/09
559
E
8.8
2
2
935
.
.
.

Lambs should be weighed at weaning to determine weaning weights and litter weaning weights for ewes. 120-day weights give an indication of post-weaning growth. Other records may be kept according to the goal's of the individual shepherd.

To be used properly in selection, all records need to be adjusted to a common basis. Growth measures such as weaning weight need to be adjusted for sex, type of birth/rearing, lamb age, and age of dam.

Contemporary groups
When making selection decisions based on performance records, it is important to only compare animals from the same contemporary group. A contemporary group is a group of animals that have been raised in the same environment under exactly the same management. If adjustment for sex is made, males and females managed the same can be included in the same contemporary group.


Computerized record keeping
While spreadsheets (e.g. Excel) and databases (e.g. Access) can be used to record, sort, and analyze performance data, there are several commercial software packages that can be used to keep production records. Many are specific to sheep enterprises and offer free demo versions of their software.


National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP)

The National Sheep Improvement Program was developed to assist producers in compiling records into a usable form for selection decisions. Sophisticated mainframe computer programs are used to generate estimates of genetic value. The actual values are called Expected Progeny Differences or EPD's.

Flock EPD's (FEPD) are the same as EPD's except that all the data is derived from a single flock. The EPD for an animal estimates how well its offspring (progeny) compare to the breed average. Producers marketing breeding stock benefit the most from NSIP.

In 2010, NSIP entered into a partnership with Australia's LambPlan. Data are now processed by LambPlan. This partnership ensures the long term viability of NSIP.

Animal identification and record keeping



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Late updated 01-Mar-2011 by Susan Schoenian.
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