Animal identification serves as the foundation for maintaining accurate production records of herds and flocks, tracking animal growth, managing treatment records and movement, as well as providing proof of ownership to individuals. Perhaps even more valuable, though, is the critical role a successful identification system plays in global trade, endangered species tracking, emergency management, food safety and disease eradication. In the case of a disease outbreak, the ability to identify farm animals provides farmers and veterinarians with a means to track those animals that are sold or transported to other farms or processing facilities. Such traceability plays a crucial part in helping secure the safety of our food supply, as it provides a way to determine each animal’s unique path and helps pinpoint livestock that may have been exposed to a disease through direct contact with an infected animal. Because some animal diseases also have human health implications, it is essential to properly identify animals to help prevent and eradicate diseases. Throughout this article we will take a look at both permanent and temporary methods of livestock identification, providing you with the information necessary to help educate and guide your decisions when it comes to the long-term care of your livestock and you.
Permanent Forms of Identification:
- Tattooing: This form of identification utilizes tattoo pliers to imprint an number/letter combination into the skin of the animal using indelible ink. The unique identification combo is commonly placed on the ears or lips of the animal and is commonly used on cattle, sheep and swine.
- Ear Notching: Used widely throughout the swine industry, ear notching involves removing v-shaped portions of the pig’s ear that correspond to a specific litter number and also an individual pig number from that litter. In this system, notches are equal to numbers with the right ear equaling the litter number and the left ear corresponding to the individual number.
- Microchips: The latest technology in animal identification, microchips are used primarily in the U.S. for high value animals and pets. This process involves implanting an electronic chip with a miniature radio transponder and antenna under the skin of the animal.
- Freeze Branding: Freeze branding involves the use of branding irons, with letters and numbers, being chilled in liquid nitrogen or dry ice and alcohol. Once applied to an animal’s hide, the chilled branding iron kills the cells that produce color pigment in the hair follicles, but does not kill the growth follicles. Consequently, white or colorless follicles are produced in the branded region, which results in a permanent identification brand. Freeze branding allows for identification from a greater distance than ear tags, but is predominately used on dark haired cattle and horses.
- Nose Printing: Similar to finger printing, the lines and dotted pattern from a nose print are specific for each animal and can be recorded by making an ink print. Nose printing is permanent and cannot be modified in any way.
Temporary Forms of Identification:
- Ear Tags: An economically friendly option, plastic ear tags can be attached to the ear of the animal using special pliers to pierce the skin. Ear tags can be purchased already numbered, or, if purchased blank, may be numbered accordingly using ear tag markers. Such tags are sold in a variety of colors and sizes and allow for front and back identification, when numbered on both sides. Care must be taken to assure that tags remain in place, as they they can fall out or be torn out easily.
- Paint Markers: Safe for both people and animals, PaintStik Markers are designed to temporarily mark a variety of livestock hogs, sheep, dairy and beef cattle. Ideal for jobs like sorting, inoculating, tail chalking for heat detection, sow breeding and animal health management, Solid Paint Livestock Markers resist weather and fading for long-lasting identification and will mark on wet or dry animals.
- Neck Chains: Most commonly used with dairy cattle, neck chains have a numbered tag that corresponds to that animal’s identification number.
- Electronic Collar: Similar to neck chains, Electronic collars have an attached tag with an electronic number that can be read by a scanner. Relatively easy to use, but can cause choking if not adjusted properly to the growth of the animal.
- Paint Branding: Irons, similar to to those used in freeze branding, can be used to print a number on the animal’s back using paint.
Although there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution for every situation, the importance of selecting an identification method that suits the needs and expected uses of your animal can not be disputed. When used in the correct manner, and under the appropriate conditions, each method will go a long way in supporting the rapid traceability of animals in an emergency response situation while also preserving product integrity and allowing producers to maintain accurate management records.