Cattle Identification

Reasons for Idenification methods:

  • Marks are used to show owner ship of the animal
  • Distinguish the animals from each other
  • record keeping

Identification Methods

  • marker or paint
  • tattooing
  • freeze brands
  • fire brands
  • ear tag
  • electronic branding with numbering system

Ear Tags

Plastic ear tags
Flexible plastic tags are the most widely used for cattle identification.

There are many brands and types of tags.

Retention and legibility are the most important considerations for all tags. A producer can purchase preprinted tags or choose to write their own numbers on the tags.

Some tags have special markers for writing on them, others are designed to have numbers inscribed in them. It is important to make sure tags are large enough to be read at a distance and that numbers remain legible.

Ear tags can be purchased in different colors and types. When applying ear tags, it is important to avoid the cartilaginous ribs of the ear as well as to choose a flexible portion of the ear.

Self-locking metal tags

Metal clip-type tags provide a reliable, easily applied option. They are usually well retained but may infrequently be lost.

Animal health officers use special metal tags as a tool for tracking animals for monitoring brucellosis.

Brucellosis tags or other metal tags may be used in combination with plastic ear tags to provide reasonably permanent identification along with an easily read tag.

Each of the brucellosis metal tags has an individual number and is readable once an animal is restrained in a head-catch.

Although these tags are durable, they are not always permanent. When applying self-locking metal tags, you should consider the following:
• A veterinarian must always install brucellosis tags.

(Requires proper animal restraint)
• Maintain a permanent record of the corresponding brucellosis or metal tag number.
• Metal tags are applied to the outer edge of the ear, relatively close to the head of the animal. Space must be left so that the ear can grow and the tag must not be closed too tightly.
• Where metal tags are too tight, necrosis of the skin may result, which can cause abscesses and loss of tags.


Ink is put into the animal’s skin in a series of dots that outline numbers or symbols.

In cattle, this tattoo ink is put under the skin inside the ear using special tattoo pliers that puncture the skin and leave a permanent number.

Tattoos are a good permanent means of identification. However, because tattoos are inside the animal’s ear, the animal must be restrained to read the tattoo.

Depending on the color of the inside of the cattle's ear you should pick a color that is easier to read.

Most breed associations require that cattle have ear tattoos for registration. Tattoos are also a required part of identification of animals for brucellosis vaccination and monitoring programs.

The tattooing process is somewhat time-consuming, and an proper restraint is essential. For good tattoos, the following steps should be followed:
• Thoroughly clean the inside of the ear with rubbing alcohol.
• Place the needed tattoo numbers in the tattoo pliers.
• Firmly clamp the ear with tattoo pliers, avoiding cartilage ribs of the ear.
• Rub tattoo ink in punctures until bleeding ceases.

Numbering systems

A number should not be duplicated for 10 years or more and should not be more than four digits so it can be read easily.

If computerized record-keeping systems are used, it is essential producers eliminate any duplicate numbers. The best numbering system is one that is simple and easy to read.

A common system involves including the last digit of the year as the first digit of the animal identification.

As calves are born each year, they are identified with a four-digit number that would begin with the last digit of the year they were born.
Most producers find it advisable to include all the digits in a numbering system on each tag, tattoo or number brand.
Some breeds and record systems use a letter code to represent a given year.
Calves are sometimes given the same or similar number as their mother. This makes management with the calves easier and can simplify record keeping for calving data.

Freeze Branding

Performed using a coolant and copper or copper-alloy branding irons. Two common freeze branding methods include using either liquid nitrogen or a combination of dry ice and alcohol as a coolant. Producers who freeze brand may have better results with dry ice and alcohol.

Freeze branding is relatively stress-free for the animal, and causes little or no damage to the hide.Compared to fire branding, freeze branding takes more time, can be more costly and the brands may not be as clear on all cattle.

It is best to freeze brand during the spring or fall months while the hair is growing. As the brand is applied, melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the skin, are destroyed, and subsequent hair growth is white. New hair growth should appear in two to three months. Over time, freeze brands may fade. The effectiveness of freeze branding is variable, and results are usually better for darker haired cattle.

Fire Branding

When an iron is the right temperature, it takes three to five seconds to apply a brand to cattle with a light hair cover. Cattle with extensive hair growth should be clipped before branding, otherwise, it will take longer than necessary to apply the brand.

Branding can be done quickly by pressing firmly and rocking the handle slightly to apply the character evenly. Rocking the handle will prevent over-burn or under-burn in any one spot. When the iron is lifted, the hide should be a buckskin color.
Its important not to hold it for a long time due to scaring. It should also only be done when the animals hair is dry.

To apply a successful brand, prevent the animals from moving as much as possible which requires restraint. For older cattle, use a squeeze with an opening large enough to both apply the brand properly and avoid crowding the irons on the animal.

Don’t brand over top of another brand. This can be avoided by clipping the hair from the location where your brand is to be applied. If a brand already exists, apply your brand above, below, behind or in front of the existing brand.


A semi-permanent easy way of marking all sorts of animals. Its mostly used to distinguish a small amount of cattle from the rest of the group.Basically all you have to do is take the marker and mark the cattle's face or back.

Ear Notching

Ear notching is a permanent means of animal numbering that can be used in many ways. Although herders rapidly learn to read notches, misreading of notches is common, especially when the hair on the ears is long. Numbers are notched using the pattern indicated. It involves removing a v-shaped portion of the cattle's ear that corresponds to the numbers that it would normally be on a tag.