Tips on Beef Cattle Identification
There are several methods of animal identification. Below are some tips for effective use of six methods: tattoo, ear tag, freeze brands, hot brands, paint brands, and electronic identification. For more detailed information on numbering systems and identification procedures, contact your extension livestock agent.
A. Tattoo - If done properly, the most effective and most permanent method of identification. Required by most breed registries. Tattoo should be placed in the mid-vein of the ear. Use same ear (left or right) for all animals in herd or put in both ears.
1) Clean area to be tattooed with chlorhexidine (a virucide-fungicide). Better than alcohol in preventing spread of warts (caused by virus).
2) Set numbers and letters for desired ID. Test on cardboard.
3) Rub area with paste or ink. Firmly clamp ear with tattoo pliers between ribs in ear. Avoid getting tattoo into hair area or on rib. (May use green or black paste or ink. Green fluorescent color works bets on animals with dark hide. Paste generally works better than ink.)
4) Rub the tattoo punctures full of paste/ink with your finger or toothbrush until bleeding stops.
5) Tattoo calves at young age, preferably at birth. Use smaller size tattoo digits for young animals and larger size for older.
6) Thoroughly clean equipment with clorhexidine.
- Pliers come in different sizes to accommodate different size digits. Can get rotary tattoo pliers. Cons: must catch animal to read - use some other visible method of ID. -
B. Ear Tag - Easy to read at a distance. Come in different sizes and colors.
One-piece tags do not transfer blood from one animal to another. Usually, these have breakaway applicator that results in fewer injuries to operate, if the animal slings head.
Two piece tags may have either a self-piercing button (avoids transfer of blood) or an applicator piercing button.
Be sure to use the correct pin on applicator for the button.
Insecticidal ear tags are available for fly control. Do not use them for ID.
A tool for removing ear tags is available and is very useful.
C. Freeze Brands - Sometimes called cryogenic branding. Uses supercooled branding irons to kill the melanocytes (hair pigment producing cells). If done properly, does not kill the hair follicle. White hair grows back. Works well on dark colored animals. If leave irons on longer, can kill both melanocytes and hair follicle to produce a scar or hairless brand, which allows freeze branding of white or light colored animals.
1) Place brands only on upper rump to avoid hide damage.
2) Clean area with comb to remove dirt, grit that dulls clipper blades.
3) Clip hair closely. Surgical blades work best.
4) Wash area thoroughly with alcohol to remove oils.
5) Irons come in different sizes and widths of numerals. Use smaller on animals up to weaning age and 4" x 5/8" on older animals. Use copper branding irons.
6) Can use dry ice and alcohol or liquid nitrogen. Leave irons on animal shorter time with liquid nitrogen, but timing is more critical and liquid nitrogen is more expensive. Dry ice and alcohol usually gives better, more consistent results. Use only denatured alcohol - at least 95%.
7) Place chunks of dry ice in insulated cooler. Heavy styrofoam cooler will work. Pour alcohol in to depth that allows liquid to completely cover the numeral area of branding iron. Place irons in liquid. When bubbling subsides, irons should be cold enough for use. Be sure there are plenty of chunks of ice in the liquid at all times. Replace iron in liquid after use and allow time for the iron to re-cool before using again.
Age of animal Contact Time in Seconds
Dry Ice Liquid
Up to weaning (4-8 months) 25 15
Yearling (9-18 months) 30 20
Adult (Over 18 months) 35-40 25-30
(Requires electricity for clippers.)
Brand only on upper hip area. (Freeze brands are preferred.)
Department of Animal Science
NC State University