One more word about lamb tags for Soay sheep

With the decision by the new owners of Dalton not to bring back their wonderful Supersmall eartags, breeders of small heritage sheep are left to search yet again for a source of eartags small enough for their lambs’ ears. It is tempting to just put adult tags in and hope the lamb’s ear will not flop over, possibly causing structural damage to its cartilage. And it even has been suggested that we use the RFID tags (Radio Frequency ID) so ubiquitous these days in larger livestock.

I’ve more than covered the subject of the importance of ear tags for Soay lambs so I won’t go back over that ground, but bear with me for just a few minutes while I share just three datapoints that illustrate the importance of finding the right weight tag for your lambs’ ears. As is often the case, pictures tell part of the story.

Humongous, large, and baby ear tags for small sheep

Humongous, large, and baby ear tags for small sheep

The white tag in the middle of this picture is an official USDA scrapie tag of the kind that is supposed to be worn in the ear of every sheep in the US. We use these tags for our adult Soay sheep. The tag weighs 4.1 grams, almost nothing. You can hold it in the palm of your hand and barely feel it. But this tag is way too big to use in a newborn Soay lamb’s ear. It makes the lamb’s ear flop right over and could lead to problems later on.

The little green tag on the right is a Dalton Supersmall, the kind we have used for our lambs for the last several years, ever since we began having trouble with the even smaller “mini” tags. (More on this switch in the earlier eartag posts). Why do we go to all the trouble of looking for really small tags? Weight, nothing more. The Supersmall weighs just four tenths of a gram (.4 grams) and does not cause the lambs’ ears to flop and “crack,” and not surprisingly so, since the adult tag is more than 10 times heavier than the green Supersmall. Put the Supersmall in the palm of your hand and you can blow it right off.

Even a Dalton lamb tag makes a supersmall (2-pounder) Soay lamb's ear flop

Even a Dalton lamb tag makes the tiniest Soay lamb’s ear flop

A year ago when our wonderful USDA veterinarian came to conduct the annual inspection that allows us to ship Soay sheep to customers in Canada, she asked us to consider using electronic tags in order to save time and paperwork. The big red and yellow tag on the left is a RFID tag. Anyone using these tags can simply “swipe” next to the ear (think checkout lines at the supermarket) and the data is ready to enter into an online inventory. We were intrigued. We like the idea of saving time and trees. The problem is that the electronic tag weighs a whopping 10.5 grams, 25 times what a Supersmall weighs. There is no way a Soay sheep or any other small heritage breed could carry that much weight in its ear.

So it’s back to the search for reliable baby ear tags. If you are looking online, try lab tags for rabbits or any other very small animal (remember robust Soay lambs weigh only 4-6 pounds at birth) that needs to be identified by number. And do let us know what you find!

For now …

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