I have to make a decision about ear tags for my sheep and I am grumpy. The wonderful livestock supply company, Premier One Supplies, discontinued my favorite tag last year and I dislike all the new options. With a heavy heart, I decided I would have to abandon my loyalty to Premier and look elsewhere for tags. Now my heart is even heavier. No one seems to carry a version of the tag I want.
In the photo above, the tag on the left is the excellent, basic ear tag I have used for my sheep for many years. It was originally the EasyTag; then it was improved and became the EasyTag II. I used the smallest size EasyTag, the size 1. I dislike punching holes in the ears of my sheep, and with the EasyTag size 1, tagging was kept to a minimum.
I loved the EasyTags. I changed colors every year so I could instantly identify the age of the ewe in the flock. I tagged rams in the left ear, ewes in the right (in my flock, girls have all the rights). This gave me all the information I needed at a glance.
Ear tags fail, for a few reasons. Occasionally the plastic simply wears out with age and they fall out of the ear. Occasionally a lamb will be stepped on by a ewe and lose a tag at only a few weeks old. Most often, tags catch on fencing or brush and pull out. My fencing is almost all electric so I lose relatively few tags.
I learned that I could keep tag losses at almost zero by inserting the EasyTag so the tag rode inside the ear. This seemed to make it less likely to snag.
When I inquired of my sheep group, some of my shepherd friends reported a more complicated system of using temporary lamb tags and then at sixty days replacing the tiny tags with the larger EasyTag, size 2.
The larger tags were definitely easier to read, but as I work alone, just the thought of using a double-tagging system made me tired. I also heard many stories of lost tags. Given the bigger dimensions of the size 2, it didn’t matter where on the ear you inserted the tag; it would always hang below the ear.
Last year, without warning or explanation on their website, Premier discontinued the EasyTag in both sizes. Their new tag (which requires a different applicator) is called the Q-flex. I was baffled; I called the company. On their advice I ordered the new applicator and the Q-flex 3 (top picture, middle tag). While waiting for the order to arrive, I threw out all my old tags. This was a sad mistake.
The Q-flex 3 arrived and looked large enough to use on my calves. It’s hard to gauge the differential in the photo above, as I photographed an EasyTag that had been snapped together. However the Q-flex 3 is 1/4″ bigger even than the large EasyTag size 2. It is far, far too large to use on newborn lambs. The Q-flex 3 would require me to double-tag my sheep.
So in the end I went with the Q-flex 1.0.* This small tag is fine for lambs. (It was a bad mistake to retain the farm name on the tag, however. Who cares about the farm when you’re trying to identify a sheep? And being able to see a number only when a lamb is facing your direction is a serious liability.) However the worst problem is simply the tiny size of the numbers. At 55, I can’t read these numbers even from six feet away — which is quite close when sheep are out on pasture.
Last fall I did not cut out these small tags and replace them with the big Q-flex 3. I did not have the time, the energy, or the will. The 2014 ewe lambs I kept in the flock all carry the Q-flex 1.0.
In the barn this winter, to see which of these yearlings I am looking at, I have had to either catch the ewe or in one instance, take a photograph of her and enlarge it to read the tag. This does not feel reasonable.
I have made the decision that I won’t deal with these poor options again. When I polled my shepherd friends, I found many others had depended on Premier’s EasyTag, size 1, as a lifetime tag. It’s not clear to me what those shepherds are doing now. But I have to find something.
To my discouragement, so far when I search the internet I find no good choices.
* I was told that one reason for replacing the EasyTag with the Q-flex is that the Q-flex was easier to use. I find it no easier. Both applicators require considerable hand strength. I have very large hands for a woman, larger than most of the men I know. Still I have had to grip both applicators by the very end of their handles to snap a tag closed.