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Beef cattle identification

Robert J. Felsman


Identification of cattle is needed for any type of record system. Cattle records may range from a simple inventory list of cattle to calving records or performance records.  The two components of a cattle identification system are the numbering system and the method of marking or numbering cattle.


Various numbering systems have been developed for use with cattle. The numbering system must provide unique and positive identification for each animal in the herd. Several common systems in use will be discussed.


Marking cattle for identification should involve methods that are easy to read at a distance, easy to apply and which are permanent.


None of the individual marking methods meet all of these criteria. For this reason the use of two marking methods on an animal is strongly recommended. The most common methods of marking cattle are ear tags, tattoos and hot brands. Less common methods of marking cattle include freeze brands, ear notches, neck chains and horn brands.


To establish an identification system for the herd, first select a numbering system. Either system one or two should prove more than adequate for most cattle operations in the state.


The next step is to select two marking systems to use on the herd. Two methods of marking cattle should always be used. With two methods used on an animal, identification can be maintained if one of the marking methods should fail. The most reliable combinations to use are tattoo and ear tag or tattoo and brand.


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Article made possible through the contribution of University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

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