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Identification with Poultry Leg Rings

Poultry Leg Rings

If you are breeding or showing your birds, you will find it soon becomes necessary to use poultry leg rings. You can identify chickens, ducks, geese by a unique number printed on a leg ring which is registered to your name and address when you purchase them.

Poultry leg rings allow you to prove ownership of your birds at the end of a show before you take them home, or to identify birds that are being used in a breeding pen and maintain accurate breeding records.

There are many different types of identification used to identify pedigree animals from the tattoos used on cattle, pigs and horses, to ear tags used on sheep, or microchips injected into cats and dogs.

Leg-Ring-on-DucklingIdentification is used on farms, primarily to identify animals that are going into the food chain but pigeon fanciers adopted leg rings many years before people were ringing poultry. Pigeons must have a permanent leg ring identification to enter a race or a show.

In the U.K. (for some strange reason!) poultry doesn’t need to have leg ring identification to enter a show (although many exhibitors choose to identify their birds in this way). Still, in Europe and many other parts of the World, it is compulsory.

Printed on poultry leg rings is a unique number, registered to the breeder, ‘EE’ (Required so the birds could, in theory, enter into European shows), and the year/date. Every year, rings are a different colour to allow easy identification of varying age birds.

Fitting leg rings

Choose the size of the ring according to the breed. Some breeds also need different sizes between male and female birds. Hold the front toes together and the rear toe down, if it feels a little tight, some Vaseline can be used to lubricate the area.

Rings are closed and need to be put on a bird when they are around 4 to 6 weeks old so you would normally be breeding chickens or other poultry.

Closed rings will not fit older birds. For these, you would need to fit removable coloured identification bands like these shown here.

For closed rings, as the bird grows, the ring will no longer be able to slip off but should always be loose around the leg but won’t be able to fit over the ankle/foot. Cockerels should have the ring fitted above the spur.

poultry leg rings
Clip-on rings like these are useful when birds are too old to fit closed rings.

Leg rings are available here from the Poultry Club of Great Britain. You will need to be a member of the Poultry Club, or the British Waterfowl Association to get a discount on leg rings.

Protection from theft

Leg ring identification doesn’t, unfortunately, provide any protection against theft.

Thieves can easily cut leg rings off, so a more permanent solution is required so a tatoo is becoming more common.

Tattoo on Chicken
Tatoo under the wing

Breeders often tatoo high-value birds and the Poultry Club of Great Britain now allow birds to be tattooed, providing the identification number is the same as the leg ring.

You can use standard tattooing equipment with hypoallergenic ink to permanently mark the bird under the wing. Some breeders will offer this service to others, although even with permanent tattoos, birds are still, unfortunately, stolen sometimes.


It appears that specific breeders with high-value stock are targeted, sometimes even being taken from pens at shows, so tattooed birds are probably being used in breeding pens to produce offspring.

At least permanent tattoos make it much more difficult for thieves to sell stolen birds on at auction.

Selling birds

If you sell rung birds, you will find it does increase the value of the bird slightly. People seem to be prepared to pay a little more for them, and my guess is this is because the bird is perceived to be from better quality ‘show’ stock. When selling a bird, you need to fill in a transfer form from the Poultry Club of Great Britain to register the new owner of that ring number.

Photos of Tattoos courtesy of Jason Spencer.

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