Causes, Factors & Solutions
Proper application of ear tags is essential for the health of the animal. Mild infections at the piercing site are more common than most people think. You can reduce the risk of infection by knowing where to place ear tags and treating infection early.
We apologize if the above photos are disturbing. However, they are real. By showing them we hope to encourage shepherds to reduce the risk of infection.
How can I reduce the risk of infected ears from tagging?
- Tag them as lambs or kids.
- Don’t insert tags in fly season.
- If you live in a humid climate, tag in the winter.
- Don’t place tags close to the skull.
- Tag when the ear is dry and clean.
- Use smaller tags.
- Avoid metal or round tags.
- Apply an antibiotic, a fly repellent and/or a disinfectant to the ear tissue or tag (Options 1-3 below).
The risk—how serious is it?
Can be very serious. If not caught quickly it can disfigure a sheep for life. May force it to be culled early.
Have we had tag infections?
Mild infections the week after tagging are more common than most think. You have to look closely to see it. It usually heals on its own. However, serious infections have occurred here in 2 instances:
- July 2003, after inserting 5 brands of RFID tags in adult sheep.
- In 2008, during a trial with 2 different tags inserted in 400 adults and feeder lambs in a humid May and June. Lambs were minimally affected. Adults were badly affected. Both groups were on grass.
Common factors: Adult sheep and Southeast Iowa’s summer heat and humidity.
How often does it occur?
Seldom in dry areas and seasons. Too often in humid months.
Does the brand of ear tag matter?
Not if the tag design is similar. At a major sheep show we observed mild infection with most tag brands.
Does tag type (metal vs round vs leaf/flag-shaped) matter?
All things being equal (but they rarely are), designs that allow more air near the wound will produce less infection. That’s why we avoid round and metal tags when it’s possible to do so.