January 24, 2009

Cattle farm husbandry – cattle identification

Cattle, farming, husbandry, recording, identification, tags and tag placement, brands, tattoos, recording live weight

By Dr Clive Dalton

You cannot do any worthwhile breeding to improve herd performance unless all your animals have a unique identification. Apart from this, it’s now a legal requirement by the Animal Health Board (AHB) to have all your cattle identified with ear tags for Tuberculosis (Tb) control.

Tags for Tb control

  • The AHB operates a compulsory ID programme for cattle that requires only officially approved tags.
  • All stock must be identified to their herd of origin when moved after one month of age.
  • All official tags carry the AHB logo or the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) logo.
  • All tags or tag components carrying official markings must face forward.
  • Two tags are required a primary and a secondary.
  • Primary tags are two-piece and must be yellow and show a barcode and AHB herd number or LIC (MINDA) code.
  • Secondary tags can be different colours (one piece or two-piece), metal or plastic but they must be marked with the AHB herd number or MINDA code.
  • For stock going “direct to slaughter”, they need a special tag with the letter “S” on and numbers and logos as described above. A primary tag is acceptable for this purpose.
  • Lost tags have to be replaced with a proper “replacement tag” with the letter “R” on them showing the herd details described above.
A unique ID

There is a wide range of tags available
  • The best way to form a unique identity is to use an individual number along with the beast’s year of birth.
  • So for example 123/05 is animal number 123 born in 2005. You may have other cattle numbered 123, but they won’t have been born in 2005.
  • So each year get your tags (plastic and brass) to run from Number 1 to however many calves you expect to have, and add the year born to each tag. With brass tags, get your name punched on the third side too.

Where to place the tag?
  • Where you put the brass tag in the ear is critical if you want to avoid problems later, remembering how the ear grows.
  • Punch the tag in the top of the ear, about a third of the way along from the head toward the tip, leaving room for the ear to grow and the tag to remain in a readable position.
  • If you put it too near the head it will grow into the skin folds, and you’ll have to use a head bail to read it.
  • Punch plastic tags in the middle of the ear about half way along avoiding the two main ligaments and the veins.
  • Keep all tagging equipment disinfected during and after use. Check for any infection and festering a couple of days after tagging.
  • Always put the same number on the plastic tags that is on the brass, and it’s a good idea to use different coloured plastic tags for each year’s crop of calves to help sort age groups later.

Brands and tattoos
  • Ear tattoos are useless as they are too hard to read, and only work in white ears.
  • Similarly freeze branding that makes the hair grow white is only useful on black hides.
  • Branding with caustic paste or hot irons is not recommended any more. In desperation farmers who are sick of getting their cattle rustled sometimes consider fire branding as a last resort. The thieves get round this by selling the dressed carcass and leaving the skin and offal in the paddock!

The future
The future is with electronic tags and they are available now. In future the entire animal’s data will be stored in its ear tag. Each animal will have a “passport” to record its complete history, e.g. feeding and health treatments and which farms it has been on. This is being driven by the need for traceback from plate to paddock by overseas markets.

Recording live weight

  • If you are in the cattle business you’re automatically in the meat business, so you need to know what each animal weighs.
  • A set of scales can be expensive for just a few stock but consider joining with neighbours to share the cost, or borrow scales from your vet clinic.
  • Modern electronic scales consist of two weigh bars and a platform that needs to stand on a firm base in the yards. The readout unit can be put anywhere such as on the ground, rested or hung on the fence, or hand held. It can do all sorts of calculations and provide readouts such as the current weight, weight gain since the last weighing, average for the mob and the range (highest and lowest).
  • Weigh bands that you stretch around the animal’s girth just behind the front legs are reasonably accurate for calves but are not much use after that.
  • For young calves that you can lift, stand on the bathroom scales on a firm surface and get someone else to read the dial while you hold the calf. Remember to subtract your weight!

Records and herd size
If you just keep a few animals then it may not be worth the costs joining a formal beef cattle performance recording scheme (see NZ Contacts in Agriculture), but it’s still very important to keep formal records as you will forget what happened over time. The simplest system is to have a record card for each animal or an entry in a spreadsheet or database. Information you could record on each animal is:
  • Identification
  • Sex
  • Sire and dam’s ID
  • Birth date
  • Birth weight
  • Weaning date
  • Weaning weight
  • Yearling weight and date
  • 18-month weight and date
  • Fate - what happened to it finally
  • Health records
As females come into the herd, then start new cards for their breeding records such as:

Calving 1
  • Date mated (Leave a few columns for repeat matings)
  • Sire used (Leave a few columns for change of sire used)
  • Date calved
  • Calf sex birth weight
  • Fate of calf
  • Fate of cow
  • Health records

Calving 2
Ditto as above and for subsequent calvings

Disclaimer This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.

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