Permanent Identification

American Angus Association®

3201 Frederick Ave. Saint Joseph, MO 64506 816.383.5100

Good herd management begins at birth, and the results have an impact on your herd for generations to come. Accurate and permanent identification (ID) plays a crucial role in effective herd management. An animal’s individual herd ID is unique for its generation and is the first part of organized herd records—the information you use to properly record pedigrees, ensure healthy, productive animals, and reach herd goals.

There are many ways to identify livestock. These range from less permanent forms, such as ear tags, to permanent methods such as tattooing, hot-iron and freeze branding. Biometrics and genomics also use a variety of ways to accurately ID cattle.

When determining what ID method you will use for your Angus herd, you should consider costs, rules and requirements, and convenience. Ideally, this simple but important step in proper herd management will balance the unique management needs of your operation.

This permanent ID fact-sheet series details tattooing and freeze branding. You can use this information to guide the use of permanent ID for your Angus herd.

As you select a permanent ID method that you feel the most comfortable with, consider these points:

Plan ahead, be prepared. Permanant ID, like all parts of herd management, requires a combination of sound decisions and prep-work to support your investments—the animals, equipment and other capital that make up your farm or ranch. Good judgement , planning ahead, and being attentive to sound animal husbandry practices are imperative as you select the best method of permanent ID for your herd. These approaches can reduce stress on your animals, your equipment and you.

Categorize and organize your herd. The ID you assign a calf will be used for the remainder of its herd life. Therefore, a herd ID is an important part of accurate and organized herd management records.

There are many ways to organize your herd. Several systems can help you identify your animals and simplify record-keeping. Choose a system that you are comfortable using on your farm or ranch.

Identify your calves at birth. This can occur in conjunction with taking weights and observing the cow and her calf during the time surrounding birth. When you cannot use a permanant form of ID to accurately identify the calf, an ear tag can be used. Tagging a calf can supplement your chosen method of permanent ID. The tag visibly, and prominently, displays an animal’s unique herd ID. It can also represent other herd record information, such as a sire and dam.

Know the rules. The American Angus Association requires the use of permanent identification marks for each animal registered with the Association; all permanent ID marks must comply with these rules: (Fully described in the Association’s Breeder’s Reference Guide.)

Animals must be permanently identified prior to • submitting their application for registration to the American Angus Association.

The marks of an animal’s ID must correspond with • the animal’s registration information.

No more than five units (includes Arabic numbers • and capital letters, or a combination of the two) can be used to form an individual animal’s ID.

Original markings cannot be altered. If markings • become unreadable, they need to be placed in a new and separate area on the animal.

If necessary, steps can be taken to verify an • animal’s identification using DNA.

If you have specific questions about the visibility of • original permanent IDs, contact the Association.

Double check...before the check is written. In some instances, you may purchase or sell registered Angus. In such cases, rember the following info about permanent ID:

Eliminate potential complications; follow the • Association’s ID and transfer rules.

Prior to the purchase or sale of an animal, make • sure it’s ID marks are readable.

Make sure the ID marks match the animal’s • Registration Certificate.

For specific guidelines about proper ID, and • transferring and purchasing animals, consult the Breeder’s Reference Guide or seek the assistance of the Association’s member services department.

Make it ‘show’ up! If you exhibit animals you are required to follow the show rules and regulations, including those for permanent ID. Remember the following information:

At shows where the American Angus Association • contributes premium money, your animal(s) may be inspected for proper identifcation.

Double check ID marks prior to arriving at the • show.

Exhibited animal’s permanent ID marks must be • readable & marks must correctly match the information on the animal’s Registration Certificate.

Use available resources. If you are new to the permanent ID procedures described in these fact sheets, you can increase your familiarity with additional education outlets:

Watch an online demonstration—visit the • Association’s online Angus Education Center.

Attend a seminar or short-course with live demon• strations on permanent identification methods.

Use the guidance of your local land-grant • university & Cooperative Extension agent.

Speak with beef industry peers who are familiar • with permanent ID techniques & can advise you.

When proper technique is used tattoos are effective ways to permanently identify animals. Your goal is to create legible marks in both ears that match the animal’s herd ID and its American Angus Association Registration Certificate.

Prepare your work area: Use a a suitable restraining device (i.e., a chute) for the animal you will tattoo. Make sure you have a clutter-free work area and clean surface to place your materials and supplies.

Gather materials & supplies:

Enlist the assistance of others: Help can streamline the work process and ensure accuracy. It is particularly useful if you are working with a larger group of animals. More importantly, a team effort can minimize stress on the animal, the equipment and you.

Ensure accuracy: With the animal secured in the chute, cross-reference the animal’s ear tag with your records and its assigned identification number. Once you prepare your pliers, double check the tattoo marks by stamping the pliers into a piece of cardboard or other scrap paper. The numbers should be identical to the herd ID of the animal you are about to tattoo; be sure the marks read correctly, left to right, and that they are not backwards or out of order.

Prepare your tattoo pliers and dies: Reduce the spread of disease; sanitize your equipment with rubbing alcohol or similar disinfectant. Repeat this procedure between each animal you tattoo.

Properly secure the tattoo dies onto the face of the pliers by sliding the dies into the ridges on the top and bottom of the pliers face. For additional instruction, follow the directions in your tattoo kit.

Prepare the animal’s ears for tattooing: Clean out dirt and wax from the animal’s ears; a rag and rubbing alcohol can help accomplish this. You will place the tattoo marks into the area between the cartilage ribs in the upper-third portion of the animal’s ears. Removing dirt and wax from these areas will create legibile markings. This also provides a clean, hygienic area to pierce when you tattoo the animal. Use a toothbrush to apply the green tattoo paste onto cleaned areas of the ears.

Tattoo the animal: After preparing the animal’s ears and your equipment, and the animal is properly restrained, both you and the animal are ready for tattooing. Hold the pliers in place over the area where you first applied the green tattoo ink. Clamp the pliers shut by squeezing the handles. Apply steady pressure as the tattoo dies evenly puncture the skin. Once you pierce the animal’s skin, and the dies meet the opposite face of the pliers, release the pliers.

Rub in the green tattoo ink: After tattooing the animal’s ears, reapply a dab of green tattoo ink onto the toothbrush and rub the ink into the pierced areas. This will aid the visibility of the tattoo marks, once the excess tattoo ink has worn off.

After you complete tattooing the animal, make note of this information in your herd record books. When properly performed, freeze branding is an effective way to permanently identify an animal. Your goal is to create a marking on the animal’s hip or shoulder area that is readable, and matches their herd ID and Registration Certificate. A readable freeze brand on an Angus results in the growth of white hair where the irons were applied, and the dark hair pigment was destroyed. Generally, freeze branding is more effective in spring and fall seasons when hair follicles are most active and responsive to freeze branding.

Prepare your work area: Use a suitable restraining device (i.e., a chute) that provides easy access to the branding site. Ensure you have a clutter-free work area, access to electrical outlets and place for your materials. Take extra safety precautions and be aware of potential risks, as feeze branding uses hazardous chemicals.

Gather materials & supplies:

Enlist the assistance of others: Depending on geographic area, some freeze branding tactics are more effective than others. Consult producers in your area who freeze brand cattle; they can share insight on ways to create readable brands. Also, during branding use a team effort to streamline the work process and minimize stress on the animals and you.

Prepare coolant and branding site, chill irons: Combine dry ice and desired solvent and mix the coolant in the insulated container. A visible fog will form; and the coolant will “boil”. Submerge the irons into coolant and let chill for about 20 minutes.

Ensure accuracy: With the animal secured in the chute, cross-reference their ear tag with your records and its assigned herd ID. The irons you chill should match the herd ID of the animal you brand.

Prepare the animal for branding: With the animal properly restrained, clean its haircoat to remove dirt and debris. Using clippers, shave against the hair, creating a clean-shaven block on the animal’s hip or shoulder area. Leave enough space to for the entire ID. Brush the shaved area to remove hair and dirt. Using the squirt bottle, spray the area with rubbing alcohol and brush in to soak the branding site. The rubbing alcohol creates a clean surface area to brand.

Brand the animal: After preparing the branding site and equipment, and the animal is properly restrained, you can begin branding. Apply the brands over the block of shaven hair soaked with rubbing alcohol. Apply steady pressure, to create constant contact with the skin to destroy the pigment producing cell of the hair follicles. Hold the brand in place for about 45 seconds; use a stopwatch to time. (Note: timing varies depending on animal age, flesh, working conditions and coolant.) Remove the brand from the skin and return to container. Repeat the branding to complete the ID. A finished brand leaves visible markings where the freezing occurred. Once the area heals, white or colorless hair will begin to grow, displaying an easily visible herd ID on the animal.

Record your procedures: After you complete branding, note procedures and other factors, like weather, animal condition, age and branding time(s). This information will help with future freeze brandings.

The following are a just two examples of systems you can use to create a unique herd ID. These simple, sequential systems reduce duplicate IDs for animals in your herd and organize calves by their birth year. When selecting herd IDs, avoid similar letter and number combinations.

Numerical code systems: There are several ways to use numbers to make an animal ID. In these systems, a selected digit represents the a calf’s birth year. The remaining digits complete a calf’s assigned herd ID.

Example: A calf born in 2009 would have the the number 9 included in its herd ID, to designate its birth year.

International Letter code system: Instead of using the last digit of the animal’s birth year to create the calf’s unique herd ID, you can use a letter of the alphabet. Each year is assigned a letter (see Figure 1) to combine with the calf’s birth order.

Example: A calf born in 2009 would have the letter W included in its herd ID, to designate its birth year.

U 2008 W 2009 X 2010 Y 2011

Z 2012 A 2013 B 2014 C 2015

D 2016 E 2017 F 2018 G 2019

H 2020 J 2021 K 2022 L 2023

M 2024 N 2025 P 2026 R 2027

S 2028 T 2029 *I O Q and V are not used

Figure 1.

Herd record book

Tattoo pliers with removeable dies

Cardboard or other scrap paper (to test markings)

Toothbrush (for rubbing in ink)

Tube of green tattoo paste

Tattoo dies—make sure you have the correct dies (numbers & letters) to create the ID of the animal(s) you tattoo

Rubbing alcohol & container (to cleanse & sanitize)

Rag (to clean ears)

Herd record book

Notepad & pencil

Stopwatch (for timing)

Leather gloves

Electric clippers

Power cord

Squirt bottle filled with rubbing alcohol (to soak brand site)

Stiff bristled brush (to remove dirt & debris from haircoat)

Solvent (such as denatured alcohol) to make liquid coolant solution

Dry ice (for liquid coolant)

Insulated container (such as a cooler) to hold liquid coolant for chilling irons

Copper freeze-brand irons (2- to 4-inch for calves, 4-inch or larger for

yearlings & cows)