Proper cattle identification system to improve operation production and profitability

Stockton, Mo.- “Proper identification is key to management of cattle for optimum production and profitability,” says Patrick Davis MU Extension Regional Livestock Field Specialist.  Identification is important in tracking cattle performance. It is used to make management decisions that will improve productivity of the cattle operation.  Identification also helps in tracking health and treatment of those issues which will lead to optimum health status of the cattle.  Identification can also be important in the ownership and sale of cattle.  Below, Davis will share thoughts on identification systems and how to utilize these to optimize operation production and profitability.

“A proper identification system starts with selecting a system that will uniquely identify the calf for the rest of its life,” says Davis.  Two systems to consider are the four-digit system or the letter and 3-digit system.

The first number of the four-digit system represents the last digit of the calf birth year.  The rest of the numbers represent the calf’s birth order that year.  For example, the identification of the 56th calf born in 2019 is 9056.  “One problem with this system is the potential for identification duplication of the cows that are 10 years or older with younger cows in the herd,” says Davis. 

“The other system uses a letter to represent the year which reduces potential cow identification duplication of cows in the herd,” says Davis.  In this system the letter represents the year the calf was born and the following three digits represent the calf birth order during that year.  For example, G was the letter assigned to 2019, so G056 is the identification number for the 56th calve born that year.  The letter changes yearly in sequential order except I, O, Q, and V are not used for identification.

“Properly marking the calf with its identification is important for maintenance and utilization in management decisions,” says Davis.  Davis urges cattle producers to identify the calves as young as possible and use at least one permanent and one temporary form of identification.  This ensures the identification number follows that calf the rest of its life. 

“Two permanent forms of identification that work well are ear tattoo and branding on the shoulder or hip,” says Davis.  The tattoo is applied on the inside of the ear, but is only legible at the head gate where a brand can be legible to read at any time.  The two types of brands are hot iron and freeze brand.  Hot iron brands are usually more likely to last the calf’s life time compared to freeze brands.  However, since freeze branding only kills the pigment producing cells in the hair follicle it does not damage the hide like hot iron branding.  Freeze branding works best on black, red and other colored animals, but for adequate results with lighter colored animals leave the irons on the skin longer to completely kill the hair follicles. 

Farm brands help identify cattle ownership in the case of theft.  Davis urges cattle producers to contact their state agency associated with the cattle brand book to help develop and register a farm brand.

“Ear tags are the temporary form of identification that most cattle producers use,” says Davis.  Tags need to be large and contain identification information in a legible manner that can be read at any time.  Davis urges cattle producers to test different varieties of tags and pick the variety that is least likely to be lost. 

“Once the proper identification system is in place use it to make management decisions about your cattle,” says Davis.  The system can be used to track your herd.  The system also helps develop and maintain cattle production and health records.  Davis urges cattle producers to use those records to identify lower performing, less profitable cows and remove them from the herd.  This will lead to a more profitable, better performing cattle operation.

For more information on how to implement a cattle identification system as well as how to use that system to improve performance and profitability for your cattle operation contact your local MU Extension Livestock Field Specialist.