Publication - Advice and guidance

Livestock identification and traceability: guidance

Published: 10 May 2019
Last updated: 4 Dec 2020 - see all updates

How we identify animals and how they are tracked when they are moved.

Livestock identification and traceability: guidance


From 1 January 2021 there will be some changes to the requirements around the export of livestock from Scotland to the European Union (EU) and movements to Northern Ireland (NI). Whilst the below export requirements for movements to the EU will not change, requirements for exports from Great Britain (GB) to NI are subject to ongoing negotiations. As currently written, the Northern Ireland Protocol will require movements of livestock from GB to NI to be treated as if moving livestock to a Member State from 1 January 2021. Read the guidance about livestock identification export requirements post EU exit.

Cattle identification and traceability is vital to enable efficient and effective disease control and to protect public health. In the event of a disease outbreak, it is important that movements can be traced easily from birth to death.

To ensure this level of traceability is achieved, all cattle are required to be correctly identified and issued with a corresponding passport in accordance with current legislation. 


There are a number of steps you need to take before you move cattle onto your holding in order to operate within the requirements of the law:

  1. Firstly, you must register your holding with the Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID) through your local office. They will give you a County Parish Holding (CPH) number which is a unique code allocated to the land where animals are kept - this is used when reporting and recording animals moving on to or off your holding.
  2. You must then inform your local Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office who will give you a herd mark for your holding. The herd mark means you will be able to buy ear tags for your cattle.
  3. A further requirement before you move cattle is you need to inform the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) and they will then record your details on the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) and send you information. Movement of cattle within a business should be notified to ScotMoves.


Date of birth

Tagging requirements

Example of tagging format

15 October 1990 to 1 April 1995

Ear Tag

A1234 123

B654 3210

D123 123C


1 April 1995 to 31 December 1997

At least one ear tag with a unique alpha-numeric identity.  Includes UK at the beginning.


UKAB1234 56789

UK A1234 56789

1 January 1998 to 31 December 1999

Ear tag in each ear (double tagging) with the same unique alpha-numeric identity for the lifetime of the animal.  Includes UK at the beginning.


UKAB1234 56789

UK A1234 56789

1 January 2000 to current (1 July 2000 made compulsory)

Ear tag in each ear with the same unique numeric (numbers only) identity for the lifetime of the animal.  Includes UK at the beginning.


When to tag

Calves must be tagged within the following deadlines:

  • Beef cattle: an approved eartag should be fitted in each ear within 20 days of birth or before it moves of the holding where it was born if that is before it is 20 days old
  • Dairy cattle: must have at least one eartag fitted within 36 hours of birth. Up to 20 days from birth are allowed in which to fit the second tag. Both tags must be fitted before it leaves its holding of birth if that is before it is 20 days old

Double tagging requirements

The tags used for double tagging are known as the primary and secondary tags.

  • the primary tag which may be inserted in either ear, must be made of yellow plastic and be at least 45mm in height and 55mm wide. The characters must be a minimum of 5mm high. It must bear the GB symbol of a crown, the letters UK and the unique identification number
  • the secondary tag must be in a different ear from the primary tag. It can be made from a range of approved materials and types, including metal, button and other plastic types. It may also contain management information.

If an animal loses a tag or if it becomes illegible it must be replaced no later than 28 days after you notice the loss. Lost or illegible tags on animals born or imported after 1 January 1998 can only be replaced with a tag showing the same number, as the animal must retain its unique number for life.

Bison: the only exception to these timescales is bison. You can tag them within nine months of birth, but they must be tagged before leaving the holding of birth or when separated from their mother, whichever is sooner.

Ordering eartags

Keepers of cattle must order eartags from one of the Defra approved eartag manufacturers.

Defra approves eartags on behalf of the UK. The manufacturer will notify the Government's Eartag Allocation System (ETAS) of the order and will then be allocated sequential numbers for each tag.

The sequential numbers are based on the keepers individual herd mark which is then cross referenced to the unique farm code (CPH).

Keepers should limit their orders for eartags to a maximim of one years' supply.


All cattle born in or imported into Great Britain since 1 July 1996 must have a cattle passport. This applies whether the cattle are male, female, dairy or beef and also applies even if the animal is still on the holding on which it was born. A cattle passport must remain with an animal throughout its life.

Cattle passports enable the movement of animals to be traced; buyers and inspectors can see at a glance where an animal has been throughout its life.

A keeper must apply for passports withing 7 days of the animal having been tagged (a maximum of 27 days in total from date of birth) to comply with EU legislation. Applications which are not received in time could lead to restrictions of movements of cattle on a keeper's holding and refusal of the passport application

You can apply for a cattle passport using the BCMS website, CTS online.

There are five types of cattle identification documents in Great Britain, which are all vaild:

Passport Style

Issue Date

Single-page passport

From 1 August 2011

Chequebook-style passport

Animals registered between 28 September 1996 & 31 July 2011

Old-style blue & green passport

Animals registered between 1 July 1996 & 27 September 1998


Document Name


Certificate of CTS registration

Animals born or imported into Great Britain before 1 July 1996

Notice of registration

Issued if a cattle passport is refused and restricts the animal from leaving its holding unless under licence


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. 

Farm records

It is a legislative requirement that keepers must record in their Holding Register details of all cattle births, deaths and movements on and off the holding.

The following information is the minimum that should be kept in the farm register for each animal:

  • eartag number
  • date of birth
  • sex
  • breed
  • identity of genetic dam
  • date of death of animal on the holding
  • date of movements on and off your holding, and
  • details of where the animals had moved to or from

Holding registers can be downloaded.

Registers must be completed within the following deadlines:

  • 48 hours in the case of movements "on" or "off" a holding
  • 7 days for the birth of a dairy animal
  • 30 days for the birth of cattle not in a dairy herd
  • 7 days for a death
  • 36 hours for replacement eartags

Cattle inspections

Inspections are carried out by the Scottish Government's Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID). Details of these inspections can be found at the Rural Payments and Services website.


From 1 January 2017 CTS Links were replaced with a new system called ‘ScotMoves'.  

ScotMoves complies with the EU regulatory requirements and reduces the risk of disallowance from the CAP fund. The new system also gives Scottish Government access to all cattle movement data in Scotland and provides a central record of all cattle locations in the event of a disease outbreak.

ScotMoves allows you to move cattle within your business without reporting the movements to the Cattle Tracing System (CTS). The ScotMoves system does not require any additional information to be recorded other than those moves you are already recording in your holding register. The only difference is where you are recording the information. 

You must register with ScotEID if you wish to use ScotMoves. The application is only valid for 364 days and must be renewed annually. You can update or amend the registration at any point during this time.

The use of ScotMoves is not mandatory.  If you do not wish to use the ScotMoves system the alternatives are:

  • you can report all moves through CTS online
  • you can, where possible, amalgamate all land you use on a permanent or long term basis that is within the 5 mile CPH rules

Different movements require different people to report the movement

Farm to farm movements (outwith your main business):

  • consigning keeper reports off-movement from their farm
  • receiving keeper reports on-movement to their farm
  • alternatively, movements can be reported by an agent or agents acting on behalf of the consigning or receiving keeper

Scottish live auction sales - 4 way movement reporting system
All Scottish markets report the following movements, including the 'off farm' and the 'on' movements on your behalf. Markets will however, only report movements to a keepers main CPH number. Any movement thereafter that you want to make within your 'business' you can make using the ScotMoves system. You can also contact the ScotEID office for advice. 

Markets therefore report the following:

  1. off-movement from consigning keeper's main CPH
  2. on-movement to market
  3. off-movement from market
  4. on-movement to receiving keeper's main CPH

Direct to slaughter - farm to abattoir
Scottish abattoirs report electronically both the 'off farm movement' and the 'on abattoir movement' on behalf of Scottish cattle keepers. You should check that your abattoir is reporting movements for you. If they are not you must report the off-movement using CTS Online, telephony, e-mail (SIS) or by sending a movement card to BCMS. The abattoir is still responsible for reporting the on-movement.

On-farm auction/video sales/sales other than at live auction sales
You must make sure that all movements are notified to BCMS. This can be carried out by an agent or agents acting on behalf of the consigning or receiving keepers but if not, the keepers involved must notify movements using CTS Online, email (SIS) or by sending movement cards.

Agricultural shows - farm to showground to farm
Show secretaries are responsible for reporting movements 'on' and 'off' the show ground. Some secretries have agreed to also report the 'off' farm and 'on' farm movements. You need to check and, if this is not being done, you must notify BCMS of each 'off' and 'on' farm movement using CTS Online or by sending a movement document.

Movement restrictions on cattle born or reared in the UK before August 1996
All cattle born or reared in the UK before 1 August 1996 are subject to movement restrictions as an extra precaution against meat from these older cattle entering the food chain (milk from such animals can be sold for human consumption). Further Information is available on movement restrictions on cattle born or reared in the UK before August 1996 on the APHA website.

Cattle born or reared in the UK before 1 August 1996 are permanently excluded from the food chain and it is illegal to send them for slaughter for human consumption. At the end of their productive lives, they must be treated in the same way as fallen cattle.


The UK government offers guidance on cattle identification and traceability.

All cattle keepers must keep a holding register showing births, movements and deaths for cattle, bison and buffalo they are responsible for.

Visit the Rural Payments and Services website  for detailed information on cattle inspections in Scotland.

Current legislation

The EC requirements of Regulation (EC) No 1760/2000 which establishes a system for the identification and registration of bovine animals are enforced through:

First published: 10 May 2019 Last updated: 4 Dec 2020 -