All EU cattle have unique registration numbers, which by law must be shown on an official ear tag in each ear and on a passport. Every farm-to-farm movement of every animal is recorded on a government database and in the passport.
The ear tag number consists of an EU country code, a number for the herd where the animal was born, and an animal number. The animal number is sequential, but has an initial check digit which cycles from one to seven. For example, our bull Avocet 's full number is UK 284205 700016: our herd is 284205, his check digit is seven, and he was our 16th calf (the previous one was UK 284205 600015 and the next was UK 284205 100017). There have been several different numbering systems over the years, so the numbers and rules for older animals vary -- the current scheme began in 2000.
Our cattle mostly have a large yellow official tag in one ear, and a smaller plastic or metal one in the other. Only the last, individual part of the number is given on their individual pages -- this is in larger figures on the tag and can be read more easily from a distance.
Our calves usually have their large tag on the same side as their mothers'. Some of our animals also have New Forest commoners' tags, including "RE" or "YG" brand-mark tags (used instead of actual branding), and small agister's tags (the agisters are the Forest officials responsible for keeping track of the commoners' stock and taking the fees). Each year our local agister replaces the small tag to show the animal has been paid for, and at the same time trims the tail-hair to the agister's particular pattern.
Ear tags are put in with a special tool, much like piercing human ears -- it doesn't seem to hurt much, and once in, the tags don't bother the cattle.
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