Why is livestock identification important?
Clear identification of your animals is crucial for a good farm management. An identification system provides you with some strong advantages: livestock that is stolen or lost can be traced back to you easily. Generally, a good visible ear-tag on a cattle shows legal ownership and deters thieves from stealing it. Also it allows you to keep record on an animal’s individual data, such as parentage, birth date, production records and health history. Accurate records provide you with the necessary information to make good individual or whole herd management decisions.
Why is a livestock identification system often mandatory?
In most countries, maintaining an identification system as a farm is mandatory for good reason. On of them is disease control. When there is an outbreak of a disease in farm animals, a clear identification helps to trace back the root of the disease effectively. Also it can be detected which animals have come into contact with the infection in order to prevent further spread of the disease. As farm animals like cattle and bovine often switch ownership, a stringent and nationwide identification system is an effective way to monitor each individual animal’s route from its birthplace to its death at the slaughter plan.
To learn more, watch a video about animal traceability in the European Union: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-107984
Once a specific identification system is chosen, it is important to be consistent by providing each animal an individual and permanent number using the same method. The three most common methods are presented below:
Methods of livestock identification
Conventional ear-tags have long been the most common method of animal traceability. They are used in all species and come in a great variety of shapes, materials, sizes and colours. You can either buy them pre-numbered or as blank tags and use ink to label them as desired.
Ear-tags are easy to use, inexpensive and usually easy to read. However, if not applied properly, they can be ripped from the ear or get lost. In order to reduce the risk of infection you should not apply ear-tags during very hot temperatures or fly season. It is recommended to perforate the ear at least on week before application. Dipping the tag in an antiseptic solution may also reduce the risk of infection.
Ear-tags that make use of Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) technology are called electronic ear-tags.
Branding involves a gentle press of a heated iron on the animal’s body. The brand causes a scar as the hair regrows in a different pattern compared to the surrounding skin. The iron can display a number or a symbol.
Make sure to not perform branding when it is raining or the animal’s hide is wet because the hot iron will damage the surrounding skin. This causes unnecessary pain to the animal and will result in an irregular shape of the brand.
Also think about the location of the brand. Brands on good visible parts (flank, rump) can diminish the hide value. It is estimated that fire branding reduces hide values on certain parts by up to $20 per hide.
An alternative to fire branding is freeze branding. Instead of burning the hide, this method kills the cells that produce hair pigment. After 6-10 weeks the hair will grow again showing a permanent symbol in white colour.
3) Electronic identification
There are many forms of electronic identification. Ear-tags can be equipped with an electronic chip that can be read using an electronic reader.
Alternatively, you can implant a microchip under an animals’ skin. Most common locations are between the shoulder plates and near the base of the ear. They are permanent and usually painless to implement. However, there is the risk that the chip merges with the meat of the animal. Also specialised equipment is needed to implant and read the chips.
Electronic identification allows a farmer to monitor individual production and health histories by scanning the correspondent chip. For example, it can be used to automatically dispense feed to animals based on their historic feeding times. Further it can help during the milking procedure by recording valuable information during each milking.
How can I perform these works without physically harming the animal?
In order to perform the works described above, the animal has to be immobilised throughout the process. Traditional methods like traps and clamping frameworks may impose physical injury to animal and farmer. An alternative way is using the GENTLER cattle immobiliser, which makes use of the simulation current therapy technology, allowing save and fast procedures for animals and farmers. Click here for more details on the product.
Reference: Caja et al. (2004): “Diversity of animal identification techniques: From ‘fire age’ to ‘electronic age'”
Neary, M. (2002): “Methods of Livestock Identification”