This calf has unique individual identifiers on its tag; a breed tattoo alone may not meet state requirements for ID in some states.
This calf has unique individual identifiers on its tag; a breed tattoo alone may not meet state requirements for ID in some states.

Wisconsin State Veterinarian Robert Ehlenfeldt, DVM, reminds Wisconsin veterinarians that while many of them identify cattle by breed tattoo on test charts, vaccination forms, and certificates of veterinary inspection (CVI), few understand that these tattoos do not fulfill state requirements. 

Wisconsin state rule (ATCP 10.01 (71)) defines official identification as “a set of identifying characters that is uniquely associated with an individual animal.”  To fulfill the requirements of a “unique” identification per the rule, it must consist of one of the following:

1. Official ear tag (approved by USDA or the State of Wisconsin)  which can include: tags containing a 15-digit radio frequency “840”, tags conforming to the alphanumeric National Uniform Eartagging System (NUES) (example:  35ABC1234) and tags bearing the premises ID in conjunction with the producer’s livestock number

2. Breed association registration number

3. Breed association tattoo (uniquely associated with an animal)

4. Registration freeze brand uniquely identifying the animal

The most common error is the use of a breed tattoo as an official identification when it is not uniquely associated with an animal. Many breed associations cannot search their database for an animal based on registration tattoo. Few breed associations can identify animals based on the registration tattoo without additional identifying information such as registration details or owner name. Veterinarians must understand that most of these tattoos are neither unique nor searchable, making them unofficial forms of identification. 

How will a veterinarian know what is official?  The best method of identification is an official ear tag (“840” or NUES). If the animal has an official ID, record it without adding another tag. If producers continue to identifying animals by registration tattoo, we advise confirmation of the tattoo by reviewing the registration form and indicating the registration number on applicable forms.  

Check your state's rules on cattle identification so you can know what forms of identification are approved for individual animals.