Cattle Identification

Ideally, the system or method of marking animals for identifying or recording must be permanent, easily applied, and clear enough to read from a reasonable distance.

Provincial veterinary identification 

To meet veterinary animal health regulations, all cattle over the age of six months must carry a provincial brand on the left neck or shoulder. Pedigree cattle that can be identified individually are exempted from these regulations. 

Ownership identification 

Cattle need to be marked for ready ownership identification and prevention of stock theft and recovery of stolen and stray animals. Marking is usually done with hot iron brand and comprises a set of numbers, letters or syrnbols registered at the Registrar General's Office.

Each individual cattle owner has to have this brand. Ownership brands provide an important source of protection to the legal cattle owner. 

Methods of marking animals 

Many different methods and combinations are used to identify animals since no ideal method has yet been found. 


This involves the cauterization of the skin to kill the hair follicles and so leave a visible scar or mark on the skin of the animal. This can be done using hot iron branding, chemical branding and freeze branding. Over cauterization restricts blood supply to the enclosed area and results in wounds that heal very slowly. 

Hot iron branding 

Hot iron branding requires skillful use. Good hot brands are recommended and can be read from a fair distance although they may be less satisfactory if the animal's coat is woolly. The dimensions of the branding irons are specified in the respective branding regulations, which give a good guide for management brands.

The branding iron should be heated using fire, gas or electricity to a glow and if not sure, test the iron on a wooden plank. Once the animal is properly restrained, the iron is firmly placed in the appropriate place. The length of time that the brand is held in the position will vary according to its heat and the pressure applied. A good permanent brand is brown in colour. 

Ear Notching 

Ear notching has served long as an effective form of cattle animal identification. This involves punching the ears using different shapes and different positions to represent different numbers using an ear puncher. The problem with this method is that the numbers are limited and they are difficult to read from a distance. In addition, the ears may get torn and that distorts the numbers.

Ear Tags 

These come in many different designs but they prove not to meet the twin requirements of permanency and legibility at a distance. Ear tags can therefore not be used as a permanent form of identification but are useful aids to management. The following types are in common use: 

Self-locking metal tags 

These are reliable and easily applied by the special applicator. Allow space in the tag for the ear to grow if the animal is still young. 

Plastic tags 

Many types are available on the market. An appropriate tag should be used to suit the farm circumstance. 


Tattoos are made using a specially spiked applicator and ink to apply the tattoo to body parts such as the ears and occasionally the lips of the animals. Although it provides a permanent record, a tattoo is awkward to read and if not done skillfully, can be difficult to read. Tattoed animals cannot be identified without first catching them.

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