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To be successful at cattle farming, you must keep good records. And, to keep good records, you have to have a dependable way of identifying your cattle. Marking your cattle in some way does more than just keep your cows from getting mixed in with your neighbor\'s cows. Marking your cows means that you can keep track of which cows are the highest producers, which cows are the worst producers, and which cows came up open and should be culled. You can make wise decisions about which cows are getting older and will need to be replaced.

Even if you are not running registered animals, identifying your cattle and keeping careful records will make your farm more profitable.

There are several ways to identify your cattle. In part 1 of animal identification, we will discuss two common ways of identifying animals, ear tags and tattoos. In part 2, we will discuss branding, both freeze branding and hot iron branding, and electronic identification.

1. Ear Tags

The quickest, cheapest, and easiest way of identifying your cattle is to ear tag them. The tags usually have a piercing post, so the process is quick and bloodless if done properly. We usually tag our calves within a day or two of birth. When they are small and sleepy, it\'s pretty simple to pin them down, tag them quickly, and release them. If we wait until weaning to tag them, we may have no idea which calf belongs to which mama in a herd of all black cows and calves.

Larger ear tags are very visible from a distance. However, they do tend to get snagged on our hay rings in the winter, ripping them out of the cows\' ears. Then we have the chore of figuring out which cow was which number. The smaller tags stay in the ear more easily, but they can often be much harder to see if you have hairy-eared cows. Or if your eyes are getting old, like mine are, it may be hard to distinguish 3\'s from 8\'s and so forth.

If you use ear tags, you may want to use different tag shapes, sizes, or colors from any neighboring farmers. Additionally, you may want to tag male animals on the left ear and females on the right or vice versa.

Figure out a way of keeping track of the animals with a numbering system. In our smaller herd, we are familiar with each and every animal. My husband has a rough idea of the age of most of our cows just by looking at them and remembering them. However, in larger herds, farmers often have systems of recording the ages of the cows by the ear tag numbers.

2. Tattooing

If you do it right, tattooing is one of the most permanent ways of marking your animals. The process is almost identical to the way that people tattoo their own skin. The inside of the ear is the most commonly tattooed place. Before tattooing, the cow\'s ear should be cleaned with an antiseptic to prevent the spread of diseases.

A tattoo device has removable letters and numbers made of sharp needles. The ear is rubbed with colored ink, and then the tattoo pliers are clamped down on the ear. The farmer rubs the ink firmly into the needle punctures to make sure that the tattoo is clearly readable. The tattoo pliers should be cleaned with viricide-fungicide between animals to avoid spreading viruses like those that cause warts.

The downside of tattooing is that it is impossible to determine the identification of the cow without inspecting the inside of her ear. Most beef cows don\'t want anyone touching them, much less pulling around on their ears. When tattooing, it may be advisable to use ear tags as well for a very visible method of identification.

In part 2 of cattle identification, we will discuss branding, both freeze branding and hot iron branding, and electronic identification.
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