All about SET Tags

Shearwell SET tags are light, durable and easy to apply. Our one-piece ear tag is popular around the world, with more than 80 million sold in the past five years alone.

The Shearwell SET tag is CSIP-approved. In trials its retention rate has proven second to none. Visual and electronic tags use the same Shearwell applicator.

Image of SET tag
Image of SET tag end

The inner surfaces of the tag are smooth and rounded to avoid pinch points and reduce the risk of infection. Both RFID and visual tags are laser-etched for easy reading throughout the life of the animal.

The Shearwell SET tag was first developed in 1990. Since then many millions have been sold worldwide, of which some 16.7 million are electronic (EID) tags equipped with an RFID chip. In the UK, in the face of stiff competition from multiple tag vendors, the Shearwell SET tag has consistently outsold all others and is the tag of choice.

Scroll down and read on for more about our SET tag design, its benefits as well as some troubleshooting tips so you can get the best out of them.

Click here for more information about EID technology and tools from Shearwell Data.


The Shearwell SET tag was introduced to Canada in 2008. It is used worldwide, both with and without an RFID insert for electronic identification.

Image of Map
Shearwell SET Tags the world over
Image of RFID SET tag

  • Laser-etched
  • Extra sharp pin for better penetration
  • Quick to apply
  • 99.5% retention rate
  • One-piece
  • Covered pin
  • Room for growth
  • Lightweight for day old lambs
Image of SET Tag Applicator
SET Tag Applicator
Image of Black Jaws in new applicator
Black jaws in new applicator

The correct applicator for SET tags have black jaw inserts. SET tags will not work properly in the green jaws of an old applicator!

Click here for instructions on changing the jaw inserts in a SET tag applicator.

The green jaw applicators were used in Canada from 2008 to 2014. If you are still using green jaws in your tag applicator you need to replace the green inserts with black inserts. SET tags will not fit in the green jaws of an old applicator!

Image of old SET Tag Applicator
Old Tag Applicator
Image of Green Jaws in old applicator
Green jaws in old applicator

FAQs and Troubleshooting

Image of a tag

Shearwell SET tags have become the tags of choice for so many farmers in so many countries for good reason. But we don't stand still even with a winning design. We've continued to work with the design, the material and with best tagging practice to help ensure you get the very best out of your tags.

Take a look through the list below and see if you are following the recommended and best practice to make your animals' tags work best for you.

SET tag improvements:
  • The spike is 1 mm longer to accommodate thick ears.
  • The tag is reinforced around the spike end to make it more rigid and less prone to bending on application.
  • The tag itself is 3 mm longer to accommodate the thicker plastic at the spike end.
  • The tag has a flange on each side of the microchip.
Image of SET tag with longer spike Image of SET tag with flange at the microchip
Image of SET tag with thinner structure Image of SET tag with thicker structure
Image of smooth and flanged SET tags
Turn the tags over to look at the unprinted side:
  • If the tags have a bulge on each side of the microchip - new black jaws in applicator.
  • If the tags are smooth at the microchip - old green jaws in applicator.
Compare the length of the tags:
  • Longer tags - new black jaws in applicator.

Image of thicker and thinner SET tags
Compare the thickness of the tags:
  • Thicker at the spike end - new black jaws in applicator.
  • Thinner at the spike end - old green jaws in applicator.
Compare the length of the spike:
  • Longer spike - new black jaws in applicator.

Image of strips of SET tags
Compare strips of tags:
  • Tags closer together - new black jaws in applicator.
  • Tags farther apart - old green jaws in applicator.

A Shearwell tag applicator has two jaws that hold the tag in the correct position as you squeeze the handles together to tag a sheep. The top (round part) of the tag sits in a round space in one jaw, and the bottom (square part) of the tag is seated in the square space in the bottom jaw.

The top and bottom jaws of the applicator are replaceable so that you don't need to throw away your applicator because the tag jaws have changed. The old jaws are green; the new jaws are black.

You should receive a set of new black jaws for your tag applicator with your first order of SET tags. These jaws are inserts that are easy to install – remove the two screws that hold the green jaws in place, pop out the green inserts, and fit the new black inserts in their place. Secure the new black inserts with the two screws.

You must replace both the top and bottom jaws or tagging will be very difficult if not impossible!

Image of SET tag applicator and screwdriver

1. Remove the top and bottom screws.

Image of SET tag applicator green jaw inserts

2. Pull out the green jaw inserts.

Image of SET tag applicator: inserts sliding into place

3. Slide the new black jaw inserts into place.

Image of SET tag with thinner structure

4. Replace the two screws. Your applicator is now ready for use.

Like medicine and feed, ear tags need to be stored correctly if you expect them to perform. Protect your SET tags from the weather– not broiling in the sun on the dash of the pickup; not forgotten out by the chute in a pail full of rain water or left to enjoy all four seasons of the year on a shelf in the lambing barn.

Correct storage for SET tags:

  • In their original zipper-lock bag, with the top sealed.
  • Inside a plastic food container with a sealable lid, kept closed.
  • Out of direct sun.
  • In a warm, dry place. If the room is comfortable for humans, it's comfortable for tags.

Each strip of SET tags is made in a mould. The plastic is a nylon compound, with additives for colour and laser marking. As part of the curing process, the plastic needs to absorb a small amount of moisture to become supple enough to use.

During application, the spike must be rigid enough to pierce the ear, but the tag must also be flexible enough to bend at the hinge. As the applicator is squeezed, the tip of the spike is forced through the hole at the other end of the tag. The hole must expand a little, and the spike must compress a little, as the tag is closed.

Problems can develop after manufacturing if the plastic gains or loses too much moisture. Correct storage instructions are supplied with every pack of tags. Tags stored in humid conditions can absorb too much moisture, become soft and flexible and more difficult to apply.

Image of SET tag applicator with bent tag spike

Tags allowed to dry out may become brittle and snap at the hinge instead of bending. Fortunately this is a cosmetic problem only - a tag in two pieces is still secure and will not fall out!

Image of SET tag which is snapped at the hinge

The good news is that all the stresses and strains on a tag only occur at application. A tag only needs to pierce, fold and flex once – the day it's snapped into an ear. After application, conditions don't matter - hot, cold, wet, dry - whatever the sheep ear endures the tag will too.

Image of SET tag and correctly tagged sheep

The base price of the SET tag is similar around the world but the currency exchange rate, import duties and shipping costs affect the wholesale price for suppliers. These are global forces beyond our control.

The biggest influence on the retail price of tags to sheep producers is their own industry governance. Most countries have a levy at the regional or national level for industry support – some at point of slaughter, some when sheep are moved, or some, like Canada, at sale of tags. Some countries subsidize the cost of tags to their farmers which keeps the tag price artificially low.

Yes – for best retention place tags in the top of the ear, close to the head, with room left for growth if the animal is young. The microchip should be inside the ear, not on top where it can be damaged. Tags that are put in upside down might also rotate in the ear, which can result in irritation and infection.

It's also the easiest way to tag for the spike to be on top of the ear, so the force of closing the applicator is pushing the spike down through the skin. If the spike is coming from the bottom up instead, then the skin is being pushed down over the spike which takes a lot more force. That will also put the microchip on the top of the ear instead of inside the ear where it is better protected.

Image of SET correctly tagged in right ear
Image of SET tag correctly tagged in left ear
Image of SET correctly tagged in right ear
Image of SET tag correctly tagged in left ear

Knowing how RFID tags work might help you understand what can go wrong.

RFID tags have no internal power source like a battery. The microchip in the tag is energized by the radio frequency of the tag reader. The electrical current is very small but just strong enough to power up the tag to transmit the EID number stored inside. This is one reason why the read range of RFID tags is relatively small – the tag and reader must be in close proximity for the tag to absorb enough energy to transfer its number.

Here are some ideas to consider if you have trouble reading a tag.

  1. Look closely at the tag - is it even an RFID tag? What colour is it? All CSIP tags are yellow but not all yellow tags are electronic. Non-RFID tags do not contain a microchip so they cannot be read electronically.
    • Purebred breeders can use a double set of CSIP tags that have one RFID SET tag and a matching non-RFID SET tag. Both tags are yellow but only the electronic tag has the CSIP logo – a maple leaf and CA printed on the round end of the tag. The non-RFID tag does not have the logo and does not have a microchip inside. Make sure you are scanning the RFID tag.
    • Coloured SET tags (except for yellow) are often purchased as management tags. These are non-RFID tags with custom printing on them.
    • There are other brands of yellow tags on the market that are not electronic.
Image of SET tag with and without maple leaf logo
  1. Two tag readers trying to scan the same RFID tag will result in neither one getting it to read. If an animal is in a weigh crate equipped with a panel reader and you try to scan the tag with a handheld reader – the two signals will interfere with each other and stop the EID number from being transmitted. Shut off one or the other reader and the tag might scan properly.
  2. Too many tags close together can interfere with each other. Animals with their heads together can be a challenge for a handheld reader – multiple tags are powered up at once and send out a signal simultaneously.
  3. A panel reader can be stopped from working by interference from florescent lights or from an electric motor nearby. An air compressor parked too close to the weigh or drafting crate can be the culprit. Shut off electrical equipment. Turn the tag reader off and then back on before you try scanning the tag again.
  4. Another obvious but often overlooked fault – is the tag reader powered on? For a handheld reader put in fresh batteries; for a panel reader check the power cable is connected and switches are set to on!
  1. Possible cause: You have the wrong jaws in your applicator.
    Quick fix: Check your applicator – you need both black jaw inserts installed in the applicator.
    Solution: Replace the old green jaws with the new black jaws in your applicator.
    Image of SET tag with old green jaws
    Image of SET tag with new black jaws

    If you put a SET tag in an old applicator:

    • The spike will come down in front of the hole.
    • The tag will pop out of the applicator as you squeeze the handles.

  2. Possible cause: Tags have absorbed too much moisture so the plastic has softened.
    Quick fix: Hold the ear firmly and try pushing the applicator forward slightly as soon as the spike breaks the skin. On a soft tag the spike will bend out instead of down if you pull back even slightly with the applicator as the spike touches the ear.
    Image of SET tag spike being bent forwards
    Image of SET tag spike being kept straight


    Solution: Dry out the tags before applying. Open the storage bags and place in a frost-free freezer for a week before you need to tag, to allow the cold dry air to remove some of the excess moisture. If you need to tag immediately expose the tags to warm dry air for a short time, such as under a heat lamp or in a warm (not hot!) oven at 160°F (70°C) for an hour or so. (NOTE: it must be a conventional oven definitely NOT a microwave oven!) Don’t overheat the tags or they will become too dry and brittle. When the tags have returned to good condition be sure to store them properly before they absorb too much moisture again.
  3. Possible cause: The sheep's ear is too tough for the spike to get through. Quick fix: Apply the SET tag to the underside of the ear where the skin is thinner. Retention rates are highest when SET tags are applied on the top of the ear close to the sheep’s head, but that is also where the ear is thickest and toughest to tag on an older animal.
    Image of SET tag on bottom of ear
    Solution: For very tough old ears you have the option to switch to a two-piece tag with a metal spike. Or pre-punch a hole in the ear at the desired spot, and then apply the SET tag into the hole.

If you're still having problems please get in touch

Possible cause: Tags have dried out too much so the plastic is brittle.
Quick fix: Drop the tags into warm water for 5 minutes before you need to tag.
Solution: Very cold air is also very dry air. If you must tag in winter keep SET tags warm the same way you keep your medicine from freezing – pocket, heat lamp, heating pad, etc.
Image of SET tag snapped closed
Image of SET tag snapped open

Note: Tags that have broken into two pieces will not fall out. In fact, we recommend cutting tags at the hinge if they are restricting the growth of the ear. Always leave room for growth when tagging lambs or the ear can be damaged as it grows.

Image of SET tag too tight in ear

If you're still having problems please get in touch

If you’ve followed the other tips above and are still having problems with your tags then please get in touch with us. In the first instance, we suggest you contact your supplier.

Contact information for branch locations across Canada for Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers Limited (CCWG) and other distributors is given below.

Waterloo, Ontario

Tuesday & Thursday

Altantic Wool Growers Supplies

Princeport, Nova Scotia
902-895-4039 (NS)

Please feel to free to contact Shearwell directly at our headquarters in the UK if you still have concerns.

Shearwell UK

01144 1643 841611
UK Office hours 8 am – 5 pm Mon-Fri