Introduction The marking of animals for identification purposes has been practiced since ancient times. The Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used some form of marking method to identify animals and establish ownership.
Eventually, these identification methods became elements of English Common Law. In the United States, ranchers and farmers practiced livestock identification beginning in the 1800’s. Photo by John Grabill, Library of Congress, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Cattle ranchers employed livestock identification methods to discourage theft and to exhibit ownership, while hog producers utilized ear notches for registration and recordkeeping.
The identification of animals is important for ownership purposes, breeding pedigrees, livestock production systems, disease prevention and eradication, and food safety.
Because of concerns related to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, animal identification is also important to help prevent bioterrorism and secure protection of national herds.
Additional reasons for animal identification systems include foreign animal disease control and prevention, identification of animals involved in interstate or international commerce, and risk assessment in support of international trade.
Various methods of identification are available, the use of which is determined by the species of animal.
Identification Methods Used For Selected Species of Animals Animal SpeciesType of MarkerWhere Marker is Applied RabbitsEar Tags or Clips Ear Studs Leg Bands Tattoo Close to head in ears Close to head in ears Above hock on rear legs Inner surface of the ear HogsTattoo Punched Ear Studs Ear Tags Notches Inner surface of ears Coded in ears Close to head in ears Close to head in ears Ears
Animal SpeciesType of MarkerWhere Marker is Applied Sheep and Goats Tattoo Punches Ear Studs Ear Tags Collars with discs Inner surface of the ear Coded in ears Close to head in ears Close to head in ears Around neck, comfortably Chickens, Ducks, Geese, and Turkeys Leg Band Leg Ring Wing Clip Wing Bands Closely around legs Closely around legs Front edge of wings Around wing above radial close to body
Animal SpeciesType of MarkerWhere Marker is Applied Sheep and GoatsTattoo Punches Ear Studs Ear Tags Collars with discsInner surface of the ear Coded in ears Close to head in ears Close to head in ears Around neck, comfortably Chickens, Ducks, and GeeseLeg Band Leg Ring Wing Clip wing BandsClosely around legs Closely around legs Front edge of wings Around wing above radial close to body Animal SpeciesType of MarkerWhere Marker is Applied CattlePunches Tattoo Natural colors Branding Ear Tags Nose Prints Coded in ears Inner surface of ears Charts & records accordingly Dorsal part of shoulder/hip Around leg above hoof Print of nose recorded HorsesTattoo Collars Natural colors Branding Leg bands Inner lip, on neck under mane Comfortably around neck Charts & records accordingly Dorsal part of shoulders/hip Around leg just above hoof
Branding Cattle and horses are more commonly branded than are other domesticated animal species.
There are two types of branding irons: Running iron – is straight with a small 90° hook on the end; and Stamping iron – has a pre-formed letter or number on the end.
Each type of branding iron can be used for freeze branding or hot branding.
Hot irons are constructed from steel or copper; they usually have long handles to distance the operator from the heat. Freezing irons may have shorter handles and are also made from steel or copper; however, the copper iron cools quicker and transfers the cold more rapidly.
Hot Branding Hot branding is also known as fire branding. It is permanent and leaves a brand that is visible from a long distance.
Disadvantages of hot branding: Experience is needed to form brands that can be read; Hair on top of brands must be clipped during the winter for clear recognition;
Damage to the skin is undesirable to the tanning industry; and Some people believe that branding is inhumane.
The steps to follow in hot branding: Heat iron to the proper temperature; Restrain the animal; Do not brand wet hides (causes scalding and excessive scarring); Clip the hair, if it is heavy or extremely dirty;
Brand only on the shoulder, neck, or thigh. Leave the jaw free from branding to allow health authorities to mark brucellosis or tuberculosis animals, as needed; and
Firmly hold the iron on the hide until the brand turns a dark tan color (for 3 to 5 seconds). The brand will take the appearance of saddle leather. Rock the iron slightly to get a uniform brand.
Some producers will horn brand, which is hot branding the horns. The only difference is that smaller irons are used. In young animals, this must be repeated every 2 to 3 years because of horn growth.
Another method of hot branding involves the use of an electric iron. It is pre-shaped in a design or in certain numbers.
The electric iron is a good way to brand because it maintains a constant temperature. A disadvantage is that it requires an electrical source for heating the iron.
Freeze Branding Freeze branding ( cryogenic branding ) marks animals by super-freezing the hide. Freeze branding is more humane than is hot branding. Photo by M. Jasek.
Disadvantages of freeze branding: Producers must clip the freeze brands in winter for visibility. Freeze branding causes the hair on the brand to turn white, thus hindering visibility of the brand in the winter;
The white brand shows well on black hides, but is difficult to see on white, yellow, and red hides; and For a small group of animals, freeze branding is expensive.
Steps to follow when freeze branding: Cool iron in either alcohol and dry ice or in liquid nitrogen placed in a styrofoam ice chest;
Restrain the animal; Clip the area to be branded; Soak the area to be branded with alcohol, using a squirt bottle or sponge; and
Firmly hold the cold iron on the area for 20 to 30 seconds for white animals to produce a bald brand suitable for identification after clipping.
Branding System Producers may use letters or numbers system, which may sometimes include symbols or pictures. The angle system may also be used to represent numbers.
Brands are read from left to right, from top to bottom, and when the brand is enclosed, it is read from the outside to the inside. Letters can be upright, lazy, flying, running, connected, combined, reversed, or hanging.
In the angle system, a series of right angles and straight lines symbolize numbers, as shown below:
The A stands for purebred Arabian. The two stacked symbols are the year of the horse’s birth. The remaining symbols are its registration number.
Depending on state regulations, brands are filed at the county clerk’s office or with the state livestock board. Along with the brand design, the location of the brand on the animal must be registered. A brand that is properly applied and registered is legal proof of ownership.
Tattooing Tattoos are a permanent and easy way to mark animals. Many purebred registry associations require tattooing. The only disadvantage is having to catch and restrain the animal to identify it.
Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and rabbits are tattooed in the ears. The horse is tattooed on the upper lip.
Ear Tattoo Procedure: Clean the ear to remove all dirt and wax; Set the tattoo pliers to the desired numbers; Position the tattoo pliers near the center of the ear. Avoid the ribs and blood vessels of the ear;
Firmly clamp the pliers on the ear; Rub the tattoo ink into the puncture holes until the bleeding stops; and Clean and disinfect the pliers before use on the next animal.
Lip tattoo procedure: Roll and hold back the upper lip; Clean lip with a piece of cotton saturated with alcohol; Place the tattoo gun on the lip, making sure that the numerals are square with the lip. Firmly grip the gun as you trigger it; and
Rub the tattoo ink into the holes until bleeding discontinues.
Ear Notching Ear notching is commonly used to identify pigs, but some sheep producers may also use the system. Ear notching is a practical and permanent means of identification. The ear notching system for the individual pigs is universal.
The notches in the right ear designate the litter number; those in the left ear represent the pig number. Right Ear Litter Number Left Ear Pig Number Photo by Ken Hammond courtesy of USDA Photography Center.
When notching, do not make notches too close to each other as this causes the ear to weaken and tear, possibly causing a loss of part of the ear.
Producers ear notch pigs at 1 to 3 days of age, along with clipping needle teeth and castrating. The only equipment required is a sharp knife or a “V” notcher, which is safer and quicker. Photo by Scott Bauer courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Ear Tags Ear tagging is another method of identification. Tags are commonly made of flexible plastic, which allows the tag to bend easily. Photo by Lynn Betts courtesy of USDA Natural Conservation Resource Service.
Ear tag data should be seen from the front of the animals and easily read when observing animals in a pen or chute. Tags are available in various shapes and sizes, with preprinted numbers or blank to allow the operator to record data with a permanent marker.
The animal should be restrained before ear tagging. Special ear tag pliers are used to attach the tag toward the tip of the ear and between the ribs of the ear.
Ear tagging is not a permanent means of identification. Tags can be torn from the ears and lost. Producers use ear tags only as a secondary means of identification, with brands or tattoos as primary identification methods.
Neck Chains and Collars Producers use neck chains on dairy cattle and collars on sheep and goats. A neck chain is easy to attach to the animal and easy to read without restraint.
The chain should have a weak link or spring link to allow for release in case extreme pressure is placed on the chain. Producers make adjustments to chains or collars as the animals grow.
Natural Markings Producers identify animals in small herds by observing natural colors and markings, sex, and hair texture and length. A producer can sketch an outline of the animal and its markings, and then color the sketched markings.
Ear Marking Studs Also called a “bachelor button,” the aluminum stud is clamped to the ear (near the head to prevent the stud from being dislodged). The stud or button is numbered or lettered with a designated code.
Wing and Leg Bands Wing and leg bands for poultry are adjustable. The wing band is applied close to the body and should not interfere with the bird’s activity.
Commercially available are adjustable, plastic splint bands of different colors and sizes and light- weight aluminum bands. Wing and leg bands are usually pre-numbered or lettered.
Wing Clips A wing clip may be in a form similar to a “gilt safety pin” or a tamper- proof clip called a “ketchum tag.” Photo by Peggy Greb courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service.
The tamper-proof clip is a thin aluminum strip or band that is doubled over and, with the use of special pliers, clamps a pointed end into the receiving end.
Computer Chip Implants & Bar-coding The computer chip is implanted in the ear (similar to a hormone implant).
The computer chip can be scanned as the animal walks through a chute, with any data needs obtained from (or provided to) the computer record system. A similar system consists of barcoding the ear tag.
Breed Registries Breed registries employ numerous identification methods, with each method specific to the organization. A breed registry association includes breeders of a specific animal breed.
The purposes of breed registry associations include the following: Record an animal’s ancestry to provide a genetic history of the registered animal, allow a breeder to trace the animal’s ancestry, and allow a breeder to advertise the animal for a higher price;
Encourage breed improvement; Protect the purity of some animals; and Promote the interest of the breed.
Summary Correct identification of individual animals is an important livestock management skill. The type of identification used depends on the animal and the particular situation.
Most animals require a combination of two or more identification systems to ensure quick, positive identification. An animal’s identification number or mark should last for the life of the animal to minimize recordkeeping problems.
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