The truck in the driveway has a VIN, the vaccine in the refrigerator has a lot number, but does the cow and her calf in the field have a tag? According to the most recent NAHMS survey, cow and herd identification is least common when herd size was less than 50 cows. Based on their survey, 41 percent of small farms do not have individual cows identified or have a herd identification. The report also indicated 61 percent of the operations with less than 50 cows did not identify calves. Calf identification also occurred less frequently than cow identification on farms with more than 50 cows. Whether it’s for marketing purposes, theft prevention, or tracking productivity, individual animal and herd identification is something all cattle producers should adopt, and identification systems work best when they include a combination of permanently affixed id’s such as brands or tattoos and temporarily affixed id’s such as plastic ear tags.
With cow and calf values exceeding $1,000, Arkansas ranchers have begun to express more interest in branding as a theft deterrent and is accomplished using hot irons or cold irons. Branding is a highly visible traditional method of permanently identifying original ranch ownership as well as individual animal identification. Branding has been used in Arkansas markets to identify cows that were destined for slaughter during brucellosis eradication and is used today for tracking live cattle originating from countries such as Mexico and Canada. Arkansas, unlike some states, does not require branding and branding is not very common in the state. Before designing a ranch brand and using this method of identification, contact the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission. Ranch brands must be unique to each ranch and must be registered.
The plastic ear tag is the most common form of highly visible individual animal identification used on Arkansas ranches. Tags are often a simple numerical sequence for identity and require a one-piece or two-piece tag applicator gun. Blank tags and tag markers allow for customized tagging or tags can be special ordered to meet id needs.
Other common forms of identification include metal tags, electronic id tags (EID), and tattooing. There is a certainty when it comes to plastic ear tags and that certainty is some cows will lose them. Adopting a secondary form of identification such as metal tags or tattoos is a good practice. One might be surprised at how easy it is to misidentify cows that have lost tags, even in herds with less than 50 cows.