Goat Identification

It is important to individually identify each of your goats. You should have an easy way to tell one goat from another as well as having a permanent or semi-permanent identification on each goat to confirm who they are. These identifications will help you keep records on which goat got a specific health treatment and also help trace a goat to its parents and offspring. Identification can also help to find the owner of a goat that is lost or stolen. In a small herd you often know each goat by name and matching description. However, your family or friends who feed for you when you are away need a simple way to tell your goats apart. One easy way is by having each goat wear a collar, leg band or ear tag with their own individual number or name on it.

However, collars, eartags and leg bands can fall off. Collars can also get caught on fences and choke your goat. Most goat associations require your goat to have a permanent form of identification called a tattoo before they will allow you to register the goat and allow it to be recorded in the pedigree files for that association. Veterinarians also need to be able to identify your animal by a permanent or semi-permanent identification when they fill out rabies slips or health certificates on your goats. Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a national program to eliminate a rare disease called Scrapie from the United States. Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. As part of their eradication program, the USDA requires that almost all goats wear “official Scrapie IDs”. This way if a goat shows up with the disease, they can use the Scrapie ID to trace the goat back to the herd where it was born and make sure no other goats in that herd have come down with the disease.



The North American Packgoat Association recommends that when your goats are out hiking, each goat should wear a collar with a tag on it containing, at minimum, your name and phone number. This way your goat can be traced back to you if it gets separated from you on the trail.

Tattooing is the preferred method of permanent identification as it is visible all the time. Holes are punctured into the skin, ink is worked into them and then the skin is allowed to grow over the ink, leaving a number the color of the ink embedded in the animal’s skin. In the old days you would have made the holes with a big
needle, now we use tattoo pliers available through most livestock supply catalogs and stores. The small-sized tattoo pliers (also used for tattooing rabbits) work best on goats, especially goat kids. The numbers will grow bigger along with the kid’s ear as it grows. You must also purchase a series of metal digits or blocks that can be loaded into the pliers. Each block has a bunch of tiny metal spikes or pins sticking out from one side of it that form the shape of a number or letter. The pliers can be clamped onto the tail web or ear of a goat and these spikes will press into the skin and leave a pattern of holes in the shape of the numbers and letters. There are two reasons that you might put the tattoo in the animal’s tail web, 1) La Mancha goats don’t have big enough ear flaps to tattoo, and 2) some dairies that milk from the rear find tail tattoos more convenient to read than ear tattoos when identifying goats in the milk parlor.

Here are some simple steps to tattooing:

  1. Figure out the proper tattoo number for that goat. Be sure to follow the rules for her breed association. For example, as you stand behind your goat, the American Dairy Goat Association requires a herd code (usually made up of 3 letters sometimes followed by a number if more than one herd has the same 3 initials for its herd code) in her right ear, and her animal code in her left ear. The ADGA animal code starts with a specific letter that represents the year of her birth (L= 1998, M=1999, N=2000, P=2001, etc.; the letters G, I, O, Q and U are not used). This letter is followed by a number to distinguish her from other herdmates born the same year. The number used is often her place in the order of kids you had born or registered that year.
  2. Load the proper tattoo series for one ear into the pliers. It is a good idea to check the number by clamping it onto a piece of paper because it is easy to put in the wrong numbers (for example 2 instead of 5) or to put them in backwards.
  3.  Restrain the goat. Kids can be held in a disbudding crate or towel. Older goats can be straddled and their head held against the attendant’s thighs.
  4. Locate the area that you what to tattoo. Plan on going between the large veins that run lengthwise along the goat’s ear. If you hit these, they may bleed and you will not get as good a tattoo.
  5.  Disinfect the area with rubbing alcohol and then rub ink on it with a toothbrush (green ink in paste form works best even on dark skinned goats).
  6. Lift the bottom edge (farthest from the top of its head) of the goat’s ear towards you and clamp the tattoo pliers on it tightly to puncture the ear. Then unclamp and remove the pliers.
  7. Check the puncture marks and use your toothbrush to push more ink into the holes.
  8.  Be careful not to clean the excess ink off the inside of the ear until the scab has healed over. Otherwise, the tattoo may not “take” well and may disappear.


Large herds need an easy way to identify their goats without having to catch them to look at a tattoo. Neck collars can be dangerous for goats that go out to pasture if they do not break or slip off easily if the goat catches them on something and starts to strangle. Eartags may be much better in such situations. However, goats who wear eartags can get their ears torn if the tags catch on something or are grabbed and pulled on by another goat. Therefore, it is generally not recommended to eartag 4-H dairy goats. Tattooing your dairy goat is sufficient for most situations.

Microchips (also known as electronic implantable device or EID) are also a semi-permanent identification. The USDA permits their use as long as 1) the microchip is recorded on the breed registration papers AND 2) the owner travels with a microchip reader AND 3) the microchips are 15-digit ISO-compliant ‘840’ numbered chips. Without a microchip reader you cannot read the chip to tell the number. Only a few breed associations such as the National Pygmy Goat Association accept microchips as a sole form of ID. Most other goat breed associations only allow them as an addition to another type of ID, usually a tattoo.

Official scrapie identification is now be required for goats 18 months of age or older and for all bucks and does under 18 months of age moving for purposes other than slaughter or feeding for slaughter. This may make you think that young wethers do not need Scrapie Identification. However, the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, requires that all goats at the NYS Fair and at county fairs have official Scrapie IDs. These IDs serve as a semi-permanent or permanent ID for your goat.

If your goat is registered with a breed registry (for example, American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) or American Boer Goat Association (ABGA), their tattoo for the breed registry is considered their official scrapie identification as long as the goat is accompanied off farm by their registration papers and their tattoo is legible and matches the tattoo listed on their registration papers. Wethers cannot be “registered” with a breed association. However, ADGA will issue a Certificate of Ownership for dairy goat wethers as long as they are properly tattooed and you provide the name and location of their farm of origin. Additionally, ABGA will issue a Record of Pedigree for Boer wethers if at least one of their parents is registered with ABGA, they are properly tattooed and information is provided for their herd prefix, herd name, date of birth and three generation history.

If your goat is not registered or recorded with a breed association or you think there might be times when your goats will not have their registration papers with them or the tattoos might not be legible, you need to request a premise identification number (PIN, also called a premise code) for your farm from the New York USDA Veterinary Services Office (518) 858-1424. Keep in mind that if your herd is registered with a breed association you can request that USDA use this code as your PIN assuming that that code is not already taken, Once you get your PIN, you can officially scrapie identify your goat by tattooing the goat with your PIN and with an unique individual animal ID that distinguishes this goat from the other goats born at your farm. For example, 1908 might refer to the eighth kid born at your farm in 2019. Remember that Lamanchas should be tattooed in their tail webs rather than in their ears.

If you buy a goat, it is the seller’s responsibility to have the goat properly Scrapie ID’ed before you purchase the goat. The goat should have either an official Scrapie eartag in its ear or tattoo in its ears or tailweb. If the animal’s registration tattoo is being used as the Scrapie ID then the original owner should provide you with a completed application for registry or recordation. To request official Scrapie ID eartags, a premises ID number (PIN) or both, call 1-866-USDA-Tag (866-873-2824). They can also provide you with more information on Scrapie identification.


Suggested Activities

  • Identify the types of equipment used for identification. Have them available to be handled and discussed.
  • Quiz each other using the American Dairy Goat tattooing code to guess what age, order of birth in a specific herd and the imaginary herd name of a specific tattoo series. For example, right ear JKA, left ear M13 might mean the 13th kid born in 1999 at the Just Kidding Around Herd.
  • Practice tattooing on a piece of paper.
  • Use a flashlight to read tattoos on real goats.
  • Get together with your 4-H group and learn how to tattoo a goat. Do your own goat if she still needs to be done. Depending on your age and inclination, you can try doing the actual tattooing, help load the proper tattoo number on the applicator, help apply ink or disinfect the ear, or help restrain the goat.
  • Get together with your 4-H group to identify the different types of equipment used for identification. Help collect several examples of different types of identification to handle and discuss at the meeting.*
  • Find out more about Scrapie and make a poster or flier that provides more information about the disease.
  • Find out what the Animal Disease Traceability Program is and make a poster or presentation about its development.

*Activity suitable for cloverbud participation

Written by Dr. tatiana Stanton, Suzanne Ruapp, and Dawn Weaver