The main reason to ID livestock is for accurate record keeping. If each individual animal has its own ID, a good manager can know a lot about the animal if they keep accurate records. Records may include sex of the animal, date of birth or purchase, pedigree, vaccination dates and types, veterinary treatments, weights at various ages, and dates of sale or death. These records can be used to let the next owner know important information about an animal they are purchasing. Records may also be part of the marketing of animals such as "fully vaccinated" or "age verified". But all records must be tied to the ID of an animal.
Livestock may have one or multiple ID forms. Each has a different purpose. Here are some common ID methods and how or why they are used.
Ear tags are a relatively permanent ID method. (An animal might loose an ear tag by getting it caught on something or torn off.) Ear tags can be put in at any time, but the younger the animal the better. Some animals have one, others have multiple. Ear tags can be plastic/rubber or metal. They can be very specific to an individual livestock owner or have international meaning.
- Breeder Tags - This ear tag has information the livestock owner needs. It may ID the individual animal as well as its parents.
- Veterinarian Tags - These tags are put on by veterinarians after specific vet procedures have been completed. An example would be a "Bang's Tag" which is a metal ear tag put in after cattle have been vaccinated for Brucellosis.
- US Government Tags - These tags should be the most permanent forms of ID and even have a warning "Do Not Remove" on them. They are to help ID animals who are part of a government program. A "Scrapies Tag" in sheep is an example. It links sheep to a breeder and if sheep were ever found to have contracted scrapies, government officials could contact the breeder.
Tattoos are a permanent form of identification for livestock. The problem is, tattoos are limited in the amount of information they contain. Most livestock have tattoos put into there ears. Livestock tattoos are different from human ones. A tattoo kit contains a set of letters and numbers that make a connect the dot pattern in the ear.
Branding of animals traces back to the Ancient Egyptians. Branding can be done "hot" or "cold". Hot branding uses a piece of heated metal to create a scar on the animal hide in the shape of the metal. Cold or freeze branding uses an extremely cold piece of metal to create a spot on the hide where hair will loose its pigment and only grow white.
Branding is mainly used as owner identification on cattle and some horses. Brands are usually located on the side of the animal and are big enough they can easily be seen at a distance. Each state has its own Brand Laws. Some state require registration of all brands and no two people can use the same brand. Other states allow anyone to brand an animal with any brand as long as they can document the brand they have been using if there is a question of ownership.
Most commonly we see ear notches on pigs. The Universal Ear Notching System is a set of rules used to be able to read an determine ear notch meanings. In the U.S. this means notches in the pigs right ear is for its litter number and the left ear is for the individual pig's number. For example, a pig might be 27-4, meaning it is out of litter 27 and is the number 4 pig in the litter.
Other Identification Methods
- DNA - a hair sample is taken and has the DNA of that animal. No two animals have the same DNA. A lab can test DNA samples to see if they match a specific animal.
- Retinal Scans - No two animals have the same pattern of veins and arteries on the retina of their eye. A picture is taken of the retina and can be compared to another picture taken later of the same animal.
- Nose Prints - Similar to taking fingerprints on people. No two animals will have the same nose print.
- Microchip - A microchip is insert under the skin, usually in the neck. A microchip reader can identify the animal by the inserted microchip. The microchip can be linked to electronic records of the animal.
Tattooing of Cattle and Goats, University of Arkansas Extension and ResearchProper Way to Ear Notch Pigs, Nebraska Extension
Beef Cattle: Types of Identification, Clemson Cooperative Extension
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension