Identification Systems

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Identifying cattle allows you to have an accurate inventory list, detailed calving records and performance records. Select a system that is simple to use and understand.
  • A common system uses numbers to identify the individual followed by a letter to identify the year of birth.
  • Another system utilizes a three or four digit number for each animal where the first number represents the year of birth and the remaining numbers represent the individual's own number.
  • Numbers can be assigned according to the order of birth within the herd which tracks the relative age of the calf in the herd. Numbers can also be used according to the number of the mother so that the calf can be easily identified by it's maternal lines.
  • Marking cattle for identification should involve methods that are easy to read at a distance, easy to apply and permanent. No one of the individual marking methods meet all of these criteria. For this reason using two marking methods is best.
  • The most common methods of marking cattle are ear tags and tattoos. Less common methods of marking cattle include brands, ear notches, neck chains and horn brands.
  • Large ear tags are easier to read at a distance. The biggest problem with ear tags is that up to 20 percent get lost each year. Using a combination of plastic ear tags, metal ear tags, tattoos or double tagging maintain animal identity. The ear tag features easy reading while the other options are permanent. An animal with a lost tag can have its tattoo or second tag read in the head gate and have a replacement tag applied.
  • Make the first number assigned to a calf its permanent herd number. Do not assign a number to a calf at birth and then assign that calf another number when it enters the herd as a replacement animal. Changing the number complicates the records.
  • Replace missing tags on a regular basis. Don't wait until so many tags are missing that identification of individual animals becomes a problem.
  • Use of Canadian Cattle Identification Agency ear tags allows for trace back if a reportable disease occurs. These tags can also be used for age verification.
Fact Sheets

Beef Cattle Identification - available in PDF format

Cattle Identification

Methods of Livestock Identification - available in PDF format

National Animal Identification System (NAIS) - Wikipedia

Permanent Cattle Identification

The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency

Tips on Beef Cattle Identification

Research Papers

Radio frequency identification technologies for livestock management and meat supply chain traceability - available in PDF format only

Let us know of more good research papers for this topic.
  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Linda Hunt.
This information published to the web on May 18, 2006.
Last Reviewed/Revised on May 24, 2017.

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