Identification Systems

From BIF Guidelines Wiki

In order to keep all data collected associated with an individual animal, an effective beef cattle identification system is essential. Standards have been developed for identification methods that ensure unique and accurate identification of animals during the transmission and processing of data. Because the number of animals processed in genetic evaluation is routinely in the millions, it is not practical to routinely use registration number information for on-farm data collection. Standards for ear tagging and on-farm electronic identification have also been implemented. In addition, recording of animal identification is closely associated with the collection of genomic information.

On-farm identification

Animal identification is the basis for keeping accurate production records of the herd. Individual animal identification allows producers to keep records on an animal's parentage, birth date, production records, health history, and a host of other important management information. Often, this will include the international animal identification letter. Accurate records provide the producer with enough information to make individual or whole-herd management decisions. In many instances, the producer needs to be able to quickly identify an animal. A successful identification system makes this task more efficient. Identification is also important to indicate ownership of a particular animal or to indicate the herd of origin.

The identification of individual animals within a particular ranch has several benefits. In seedstock production, the documentation of identity matched to a unique registration number that is tied to a pedigree is an essential component of merchandising. Individual animal identification also is essential to ownership issues and effective management and documentation of data for performance recording and evaluation.

There are many on-farm identification systems, but choice of system should be based on the method that best fits an operation's needs. Factors that might influence the decision include size of the operation, type of records kept, and how easy or difficult the method is to apply. Two different methods should be used to ensure permanent identification. Once a system has been selected, it is important to be consistent with providing each animal a unique and permanent identification number that matches with each method used. Be careful not to duplicate numbers over a minimum of a ten-year period. When an animal is born/purchased, it should be identified immediately with only one unique number, which will serve as its identification number until it departs from the herd.

Identification for Genetic Evaluation

Unique identification (ID) of cattle across farms and ranches by organizations conducting national/international genetic evaluation is required for accurate genetic evaluation and subsequent improvement by selection. With the advent of multiple-breed genetic evaluation, a more robust an animal identification system was developed.

International Identification

The individual ID on a registered animal is currently handled by a unique registration number assigned by a breed organization. In order to allow for accurate animal identification in multiple-breed genetic evaluation and multiple-breed registries, many organizations have adopted a standardized method for including information about animals' breed registry and country of origin. This method uses a nineteen (19) character unique identification designator for each animal. From left to right, the first six (3) characters contain a designator of the animal's original "breed" registration and the next three characters (4-6) contain a code identifying the country of the breed organization for the original registration. For example, if an animal were a Hereford first registered in the United States, the first six (6) characters of the international identification would be (always in uppercase characters only),


The seventh (7th) character of the international identification would be a code for the sex of the animal at birth (M=male; F=female). The remaining twelve (12) characters contain the animal's registration number assigned by the breed organization of origin. This registration number is right-justified and padded with leading zeros (0). For example, a bull that was first recorded as a Black Angus by the Canadian Angus Association with registration number 123456, its international animal identification value would be,


Data exchange

BIF encourages data exchange and interfacing among data management and software companies. However, this raises many issues concerning the ownership and rights to use of the data. Reasonable data security is necessary and should be guaranteed before data are entered into a system. Written rules governing the sharing and transfer of information from one party to another should be agreed upon in advance between owners and others interested in the genetic improvement of beef cattle.

Accurate and permanent herd identification plays a critical role in successful herd management. The unique animal ID is used to properly record pedigrees, ensure animal health and productivity, and reach herd goals. Herd animals can be identified by ear tags, tattoos, hot-iron and freeze brands, biometrics, and genomics. When determining the right method of ID for your herd, consider the costs, rules, requirements and convenience.