Sheep Ear Tag Frustration

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an old EasyTag size 1; the Q-flex 3; the Q-flex 1.0

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 could tag the lambs at two days old. The ear might droop a bit initially under the weight of the tag …
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… but within days the ear was carried perfectly normally.

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The same tag stayed with the sheep throughout its lifetime.

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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.

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Tagging on the lower half of the ear made it easier to read but slightly more at risk of catching on something.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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7 Responses to Sheep Ear Tag Frustration

  1. Erika says:

    I will be following your query for the “perfect” tag. The Q-flex 1.5 is also a two hand insertion for me. I did read somewhere on the Premier site that cold affects the ease of application and they suggested warming the tags in warm water before inserting so the plastic female end is not so tight. I am not happy with 2 out of 5 lambs ripping out their tags though.

    Please post any new info!

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Erika, I’ve never soaked the tags in water (I don’t have hot water in my barn), but some years ago Gordon at Premier told me the trick of having the tags warm, with EasyTags, so I always keep the tags in my house (70°) and then carry them to the barn inside my shirt (98.6°). It’s prickly but effective! 🙂

      I have wondered if making the handles of the applicator longer would give women better leverage. My hands are huge (size 10 men’s shoe) and I milk by hand so my hands are fairly strong, but they are not as strong as a man’s. The other thought I’ve considered is building a simple box to hold the lamb so I can use two hands with impunity.

      Did your lambs rip out their tags while you were tagging them? Or after? Did you tag close to the edge of an ear? It’s very upsetting, I know.

      • Erika says:

        The lambs ripped the tags out 1-2 weeks after tagging. I applied the tags after studying the video on the Premier website. Last night a third lamb ripped out a tag. Their ears look horrible with a big slit since they don’t rip them straight down but at an angle! I guess I’ll try Premier’s QuikTags or MiniTags suggested below.

      • adkmilkmaid says:

        Do you have woven wire fencing that the tags are catching on? Are the sheep in such a small area that the ewes are stepping on the lambs? I’m trying to imagine what could be the problem. However, I know how upsetting the ripped ears are.

  2. erikamay85 says:

    I have never tagged. My sheep seem to lose the tags they came with somehow always. The last ear tag fell out 4 weeks ago inthe m middle of the pasture.This year with a crop of 9 lambs I can look at everyone are recognize who is who, but no one else can. It maybe time for me to start tagging.

  3. Selden –

    Like almost every other shepherd, I have a whole collection of different ear tag applicators that are now useless, and I was most annoyed with Premier when they changed their tags AGAIN… but here’s the system I use.

    Every lamb gets a lightweight ear tag with BIG numbers 001 to 150. I use the Premier Qwik Tags (http://www.premier1supplies.com/detail.php?prod_id=116240&cat_id=103 ) These are much, much less likely to fall out than the Q-flex 1.0. The advantage of the ‘loop’ is that it can only be ripped out – but the Q-flex 1.0 can ‘fall’ out or work its way out. The disadvantage of the ‘loop’ is that theoretically it can be ripped out by something getting caught in the loop and then you have an ugly ripped ear. But I’ve only had this happen once in the past 10 years or so. Also, I do not put any other info on those tags – just 001 to 150 on each side – AS BIG AS POSSIBLE. That way I can tell which lamb belongs to which ewe much easier (saves a lot of time when looking for a missing lamb in a crowd of over 100). Also with just the number on the tag, I can use any unused tag the next year. This comes in handy sometimes when some gets ‘mis-tagged’ with the wrong number, or the tagger inadvertently misfires and a tag is ruined. Usually I can find the correct needed number in the unused lamb tag box.

    Only when the lambs are 7 month old would they get a replacement tag – and that is ONLY if they were being kept for breeding stock. Meat lambs never get new tags. But after a thorough examination, checking of lambplan scores (after their Post-Weaning Weights are recorded), and a beauty pageant, that means out of 120 or so lambs, at most 10-15 lambs are getting their adult tags. I use Premier’s ‘mini’ tags for the adults. They’re very lightweight and I have them printed extra large. They are the best replacement for the old “Easy Tag” size 1 in my opinion. These also have our Premises Code for the Scrapie program and other trace-back uses. Since we’re using the same ear hole when replacing the adult tags on those lambs, there’s no pain, no muss. Very simple. Just cut the old tag off and insert the new one.

    I suppose, if you have a smaller number of lambs, you can just use the mini tags from day one, then you never have to change tags. But with the method I use, I can tell at a glance who is being kept for breeding stock and who isn’t. Every so often I’ll be out in the field and look at a really nice animal and wonder, “why doesn’t that one have an adult tag?” And then I’ll look up the lamb and see a dismal lambplan score or something else and realize why it wasn’t chosen.

    At any rate, it works for me.

    Alan

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Alan, thank you so much. I do think your system makes excellent sense. I deal with only about 20 lambs, but I don’t have a handling system, so needing to tag twice makes me feel a little faint. Also, I have a Mac so don’t have Lambplan but a program called Flockfiler. If I were to get to a place where I was weighing the lambs at weaning I would feel very proud… that day is not yet. I will call Premier today and see about ordering the mini tags with extra large print. THANK YOU AGAIN!

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