Ear Notching

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 17.30.25photo: screen shot from lecture of James Rebanks whilst speaking at the 2018 Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference, showing an identification guide for shepherds. (see 51:15 mins)

‘Ear notching is part of a culture of sheep marking that started thousands of years ago. A mark tells what sheep belongs to what flock… My hunch is, this system probably came from the Middle East thousands of years ago when animals were domesticated, and as it (farming) started to spread, this shared culture came with it.’ – James Rebanks   

I just finished reading ‘The Shepherd’s Life. Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape’ by James Rebanks. Great read about raising ancient traditional breeds of Herdwicks. So much to say, but I will start here with a book he showed during a talk I found on You Tube about his book, to Iowa farmers.


In the lecture he shows a page from a book showing the identification system of sheep in the Lake District, UK,  that could run back thousands of years. LOOK AT THOSE CRAZY EAR DRAWINGS! AMAZING!  I was aware of the coloured markings on the sheep’s wool, but not ear notching. It probably comes from ancient cultures such as the Norse who clipped ears with knives. As time went by, the designs became more complicated, and other ways of marking were adopted. Colouring backsides with a code is still used and ear notching, and barcode ear tagging. Seems like sheep ears are the load bearers of ancient and modern data.

A 237 page Ear mark Catalogue!:

I did some more searching and found a Wales ear marking catalogue, published by the North Wales Police in 2015  ‘for a safer North Wales’.  Seems like sheep are important enough to have a detailed catalogue made and by the police no less!

This work of love, this catalogue of ears, is a thing of beauty and says everything about a culture where sheep are at the top of the pyramid. 

When a sheep goes astray, are missing or stolen, they can be identified by their ear notches. It is also illegal to change an ear notch. The catalogue is online and has 160 pages of diagrams showing the pattern of ear notches that are unique to 1, 968 farms acoss the Meirionnydd and beyond. What an incredible feat.



Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 19.16.58


And found some more: These ear notch archives are from the Australian Queensland Government:


illustration: https://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/farms-fishing-forestry/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/branding-livestock/earmarking-sheep-goats/sheep-shapes-patterns







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