Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

A quick guide to the National Livestock Identification System

November 30, 2011

Cow head with ear tagsAustralia’s National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) identifies animals so that we can trace them quickly if we need to. It applies t o anyone with cattle, sheep, pigs or goats. Even if you are a hobby farmer or small landholder, the law requires you to comply.

Australian producers are pretty good at doing this. A recent compliance drive by the NSW DPI and rural police, ‘Operation Shepherd’, revealed that 99.5% of the sheep sold and inspected over a six month period were correctly tagged, and 93% of consignments audited had the correct paperwork, including accurate National Vendor Declarations.  

However this does not mean that the sheep are traceable under the current system. For the system to be effective, producers have to upload this information to the NLIS mob-based movement database to ensure the data is readily available. This is the purchaser’s responsibility.

As there are some gaps remaining, the following information is designed as a reminder of why we have the NLIS, what’s involved and why it is important to meet the requirements.

The system has a number of substantial benefits for Australia’s livestock industries:

Controlling disease outbreaks. If there is an outbreak of an emergency disease (for example foot and mouth disease), we can quickly trace back to identify animals that might already be infected, and trace forward to identify animals that are at the greatest risk of infection. In this way, we can ensure our resources are quickly targeted at the animals of greatest risk, thereby maximising the chances of containing and eradicating the disease before it becomes well-established.

Eliminating chemical contamination. If chemical residues are found in meat, milk or wool, we can trace back to identify which property caused the problem. This means we can deal quickly with the problem at the specific property and that maximizes the chances of preventing it becoming an industry-wide issue.

Maintaining market access. Australia’s export markets for livestock and livestock products are particularly sensitive to disease control measures and the effects of livestock disease outbreaks and chemical contamination incidents. A number of our export markets already require or are moving towards mandatory identification and traceability of Australian products from property of birth through to the consumer.

Detecting livestock theft. Compulsory identification of animals helps reduce the risk of livestock being stolen and increases the chances of livestock being returned if it strays or is stolen. The NLIS has already helped in tracking down and convicting livestock thieves and returning stock to their owners after natural disasters like the Queensland floods.

Complying with NLIS

To stay on the right side of the law, follow these simple steps:

Cattle, sheep and goats*

If you sell cattle or sheep:

  • You must have a Property Identification Code (PIC).
  • The animal must have an NLIS ear tag.
  • You must supply a vendor declaration form to the buyer or carrier.
  • You should supply an animal health statement. There are different animal health statement forms for beef and dairy cattle, and the sheep.

If you buy cattle or sheep:

  • You must have a Property Identification Code (PIC).
  • You must notify the NLIS database of the animals’ movement. If you buy through an agent, your agent may do this on your behalf.
  • You should insist on the vendor providing you with an animal health statement.
  • You should receive a vendor declaration for your records

If you already have cattle or sheep on your property:

  • You must have a Property Identification Code (PIC).
  • If you move cattle or sheep off your property for any reason (including to agistment or loaning a bull or ram to a friend), they must have an NLIS ear tags.

In the case of cattle, both the seller and the buyer must keep a copy of the vendor declaration for 2 to 7 years; in the case of sheep that period is 2 to 7 years, depending on the state or territory. Check the legal requirement with your department of primary industries.

*(Dairy goats are currently exempted from NLIS requirements on welfare grounds unless they are going to a saleyard or directly to an abattoir.)


If you sell a pig:

  • You must have a Property Identification Code (PIC).
  • If the pig is less than 10 weeks old it must have an NLIS ear tag before leaving the property.
  • You must have a registered tattoo and any pig over 10 weeks old must have that tattoo before leaving the property.
  • You must supply a vendor declaration form (the PigPass – available online at to the buyer or carrier.

If you buy a pig:

  • You must have a Property Identification Code (PIC).
  • You must provide the vendor (or agent or saleyard) with your PIC number.
  • You should receive a copy of the PigPass Vendor Declaration.

If you already have a pig on your property:

  • You must have a Property Identification Code (PIC).
  • You will need to get a registered tattoo before moving any pig older than 10 weeks off your property.
  • Both the seller and the buyer must keep a copy of the PigPass vendor declaration for 2 to 5 years depending on your state or territory requirements.

Tagging and moving animals – more information

If you do not already have one, get a PIC from your state or territory department of primary industries. Once you have a PIC number, you will need to register with that department for NLIS tags. When re-ordering in future years, if you have the same property, you simply order the NLIS tags through your rural merchandiser or tag manufacturer by quoting your PIC number.

For cattle, sheep and goats, the NLIS is managed by Meat & Livestock Australia. Vendor declaration forms are available online at or on 1800 683 111. Cattle buyers or their agents must notify the NLIS database of cattle movements. You can do this online at

While the compulsory vendor declaration forms do supply some information about the health of animals, anyone buying or agisting livestock is strongly encouraged to go further and insist on a more detailed animal health statement. Animal health statements for sheep, goats, beef cattle and dairy cattle are available from Declarations and statements.

More information on the NLIS is available from the Meat and Livestock Australia website

Article produced with thanks to Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment. Images: Sarah Houston (goat) and Mardi Remond (sheep)