Trading Standards Institute Advice

Requirements for cattle identification

In the guide

This guidance is for England

The Cattle Identification Regulations 2007 implement European Union (EU) requirements relating to the notification of cattle holdings, ear tagging, passports and registration of cattle, and the subsequent record keeping requirements.

Cattle need to be identified for traceability, to track disease outbreaks and to ensure the integrity of British beef.

Cattle must be identified with a pair of approved ear tags and have been issued with a passport. This identity and documentation must stay with the beast throughout its life. The British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS - part of Defra) must be informed of any movements and deaths.

A record of all cattle births, deaths and movements must be recorded in a holding register.

Before moving cattle to your holding

If you want to keep cattle you will first require a county parish holding (CPH) number, which identifies the land where they will be kept.

To apply for a CPH number you need to contact the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) customer registration helpline on 03000 200 301.

Notification of holdings

An occupier of a holding who begins to keep cattle on that holding, and any person who takes over the occupation of a holding where cattle are kept, must notify the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) of their name and address and the address of the holding. This must be done within one month. APHA should be contacted on 03000 200 301 or They will provide you with your herd number at this stage.

You must also notify APHA, within one month, if you stop keeping cattle.

Why & how do cattle need to be identified?

Cattle need to be identified for traceability to:

  • identify the herd of origin and to ensure the integrity of British beef by ensuring that products going into the human food chain are as fully traceable and as safe to eat as possible
  • enable tracing during disease outbreaks, therefore supporting the control and eradication of bovine diseases - for example, bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)

All cattle born after 14 April 1998 must be identified with a pair of Defra-approved ear tags and it is a requirement that all such cattle display at least one primary tag plus either a second primary tag or a secondary tag in the other ear (double tagging).

Primary & secondary tags

The 'primary' tag may be inserted in either ear but must:

  • be made of yellow plastic
  • be at least 45mm from top to bottom
  • be at least 55mm wide
  • have characters a minimum of 5mm height
  • have the crown logo
  • have the letters 'UK'
  • have a unique lifetime identification number

The 'secondary' tag may be of a range of approved materials and models including metal, plastic 'button' type, and other plastic types. It must contain the same information as the primary tag, but may also contain management information. The secondary tag must be in a different ear from the primary tag.

Since 1 April 1998 only yellow primary tags have been produced. All newborn animals must be identified by these yellow primary tags and a secondary tag as described earlier.

EU regulations also allow the option of including a barcode on an official tag. Whilst Great Britain chose not to introduce this requirement, in some EU states it is compulsory. However, there is no requirement for cattle born in Great Britain to be identified with eartags bearing a barcode. This includes animals going for export. It is entirely up to the importer and exporter to decide, through commercial arrangements, whether or not this is necessary.

Lost & illegible tags

If a keeper discovers an ear tag applied under these Regulations has become illegible or lost they must, within 28 days of discovery, replace it with an ear tag bearing the same number.

Cattle must not be moved from a holding until any lost ear tags have been replaced.

If any animal that was identified under the previous Cattle Tagging Order loses its tag, it can be identified in any of the following ways:

  • an ear tag bearing the same number
  • a new ear tag / number
  • a pair of tags bearing the same number

If the animal is given a new number this must be cross-referenced with the old number in the on-farm movement register. The certificate of registration (COR) and old-style (blue and green) passport must be returned to BCMS within 14 days (and before the animal is moved off the holding) for the passport to be reissued.

Animals born since 1 January 1998 must retain the same number throughout their lives.

Tagging of dairy herds

The first ear tag must be applied within 36 hours of the birth of the animal and the second tag must be applied within 20 days of birth.

Tagging for all other herds

Both tags must be applied within 20 days of the birth of the animal.

What are cattle passports?

A cattle passport is a government-issued document that states the animal's:

  • date of birth
  • official ear tag number
  • ear tag number of the dam
  • breed
  • sex

This document must accompany the animal throughout its life, from birth to death, and will include all movements, changes of ownership, passages through cattle markets, etc.

You must check that all the animal's details are correct on its passport; failure to do so may render the passport invalid. If you find an error you should return the passport along with a covering letter to BCMS detailing the changes to be made. You cannot move the animal until you receive a corrected passport. It is an offence to deface or alter any information in a cattle passport or use a cattle passport for any animal other than the animal for which it was granted.

The chequebook-style passport requires a notification card to be completed and sent to BCMS within three days of an animal movement. One of the electronic methods of movement notification as per A4-style passports, outlined below, can be used instead.

Since 1 August 2011, cattle registered with BCMS have been issued with a one page A4-style passport, which no longer includes prepaid movement cards. This type of passport replaces the chequebook-style passport. The movements of all cattle with the new-style passport will now have to be notified to BCMS by one of the following methods:

These electronic services should be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Do I need a cattle passport?

It is a legal requirement that all cattle must be correctly identified, and those born since 1 July 1996 must be accompanied by a cattle passport. Those born before this date must have a certificate of registration (COR). The passport / COR must be kept by the keeper of the animal. The keeper, not the owner, must hold all the identification documents for the animals they are responsible for. If animals are moved to common land, summer grazing or winter lets, the keeper of the animals must have the passport. Anyone transporting cattle must ensure that each animal is accompanied throughout its journey by a valid cattle passport / COR.

Cattle with a COR have been restricted under the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (England) Regulations 2010 to the premises where they were located due to their age and consequent TSE risk; all keepers of such cattle have been issued with restriction notices. Keepers wishing to move such animals must submit a movement licence application form, completed by both parties involved in the movement, to the APHA specialist service centre in Worcester.

How do I obtain cattle passports?

Prior to 1 July 1996 all older cattle should be in possession of a COR document (obtainable from BCMS). Since 1 July 1996 and up to 28 September 1998 all cattle on a green passport should also have a COR document (also obtainable from BCMS), thus enabling movement cards to be sent to BCMS within three days of the movement.

Cattle born after 28 September 1998 were issued with a chequebook-style passport obtained from BCMS.

Cattle registered since 1 August 2011 with BCMS are issued with a one page A4-style passport.

All applications for cattle passports must be made to BCMS within seven days of tagging (a maximum of 27 days in total from date of birth). Keepers of cattle must ensure that passport applications are made within the time limits allowed and ensure that movement records, both in the passport and in registers, are kept up to date. It is an offence to have cattle without passports outside the time limits stated above.

What records am I required to keep?

a) On-farm cattle breeding records

All dairy herd births must be recorded in the register within seven days of birth. All other herd births must be recorded in the register within 30 days of birth.

The following information must be recorded in the register in relation to each birth:

  • ear tag number of the calf
  • date of birth
  • breed
  • sex
  • dam's identification number

b) Cattle movement records

The following information must be recorded in the movement register within 36 hours of an animal moving on to or off a holding:

  • ear tag number of the animal
  • date of birth
  • breed
  • sex
  • dam's identification number (only for animals born on the holding)
  • date of the movement on to or off a holding
  • holding or premises from which moved, including the name and address, or county parish holding (CPH) number, of the person from whom delivery was taken
  • holding or premises to which moved, including the name and address, or CPH number, of the person taking delivery
  • date of any deaths and where the animal is sent for disposal (within seven days)
  • date of any replacement ear tags (within 36 hours - only if eartag number has been changed and only for animals born before 1 January 1998)

The name and address of the holder of the record must be recorded in the register along with the CPH number to which the register relates and the relevant herd mark.

In May 2016 Defra wrote to all keepers who have separate CPH numbers within a ten mile radius of the 'place of business' point (usually the animal gathering point or postal address). Keepers will only be required to keep one register and will not need to record or report any movements within their one CPH. There will be no standstill or TB testing implications for moves within the CPH. The use and issue of CTS links will end with the issue of 'ten mile rule' holding numbers; all movements between holdings that fall outside a ten mile radius are required to be reported to BCMS. Defra started rolling out these changes in July 2016, and expect that the changes will be completed by summer to autumn 2017. More information on the simpler rules for livestock movements is available on the GOV.UK website.

In what form should the records be kept?

The records may be paper based or stored on a computer and should be in a format approved by Defra. The keeper must produce these records to an inspector when asked to do so. We recommend that cattle keepers maintain records following the format of the holding register suggested by BCMS.

This format covers both on-farm cattle breeding records and the cattle movement records.

How long must I keep these records?

Records must be kept for 10 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last entry was made for a farm, and three years from the end of the calendar year in which the last entry was made in any other case.


Failure to comply with these requirements is a criminal offence. The maximum penalty is a fine and two years' imprisonment.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: June 2017

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This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

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