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Livestock Identification and Record Keeping

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
August 6, 2014        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


Livestock Identification and Record Keeping
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn.(08/06/14) — On any livestock farm, identification and record keeping is important.  It’s crucial for several reasons: knowing that animal’s lineage, knowing its age, any treatment the animal has received, and other aspects of its history on your farm.  Not knowing which animal is which can lead to many detrimental management mistakes.  Brenda Miller, Livestock Educator with Todd County Extension, recently published an article about this very topic.  She had many valuable insights on the subject.  She says, “It doesn't matter if you have 30 or 3,000 cows; every producer needs to have an identification system in place.” 

Let’s start with identification.  What are the options?  What are the tools associated with those options?  Ear tags are the most widely used type of identification on farms.   Ear tags are an easy, first form of identification for any age or size of animal with many different options to choose from. Choices can include color, size, personalization, laser engraved, or write-on tags. If you worry about an animal losing its ear tag, you may consider double tagging your animals with one small and one large tag (or two large tags) both with the same name/number. That way should one tag get lost you will still have the other one and can replace the lost tag the next time the animal runs through the chute or comes into the barn.  If you choose ear tags, the supplies you’ll need are the tags and a tagging pliers.  If you worry about losing ear tags, you may want to look at a more permanent form of ID.

Permanent forms of identification include tattoos and brands.  Tattoos are placed in the ear of the animal, and can last forever.  However, the downside to tattoos is they may be hard to read, and you will most likely need help applying them to your animals.  Supplies needed to tattoo livestock include the tattoo pliers, letter and number dyes, and the ink.  Branding is a well-known means of livestock identification.  Today, most farmers do freezing branding, and it usually results in an easy to read, permanent ID.  Some cons of branding are the extra work and people it requires, needing a restraint system such as a chute, and the cost of all of the supplies needed, which includes branding irons, liquid nitrogen, clippers, timer, disinfectant, and gloves. 

Along with proper identification, adequate record keeping is crucial to any livestock operation.  Every farm should be keeping records especially on animal identification and any treatments used on a specific animal. When artificially inseminating, write down the service date, service sire, and due date for each cow. Keep a chart or a single page-per-cow to record when she calved, bull or heifer, dead or alive, ID of the calf, and any additional observations or comments. Add to her chart every year she calves and include her vaccinations, illnesses, treatments, and any other life events she may have. For day-to-day, recording this information in a notebook allows for easy access and quick notes.  However, in addition to written notes you should consider using record-keeping software, such as DairyComp, or at the very least making an Excel spreadsheet on the computer so you have everything down twice-written on paper and saved on the computer. 

Identification and record keeping is important on any livestock operation, as it contributes to high quality animal care.  If you have additional questions about identification and record keeping, call me at 320-255-6169. 


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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