The history of livestock identification
Ever since humans started breeding animals, there has been a need for identifying them, foremost to clearly mark ownership. Some scientists (.g. George Ifrah) even consider that the very origin of numeric systems was the need to count animals…
The first official identification systems are documented as far as the 18th century. Uruguay for instance maintained at that time a register of hot brands (see below), and some families are proud to have owned their stock brands for over a century.
(example of hot brand registry)
In modern times, livestock identification techniques have evolved into two main groups:
- “private” or “management” identification operated by individual farmers for their own needs
- “official” or “national” identification, mandated by a government or industry authority.
Over the last few decades, identification systems have evolved from hot branding to ear cuts, tattoos,
metal tags, ear tags and electronic ear tags.
Motivation for identification systems has also evolved.
“Private” or “Management” identification has been used as:
- A proof of ownership and protection of stock theft.
- A tool to separate herds into groups with different.
management constraints (young animals, fatteners,
breeding replacement, etc)
- A basis for improved herd management trough
differentiation of individual performance.
- A way of automating the operation of technical equipment
(dairy parlors, automated feeding systems, weighing and
drafting systems etc.)
“Official” or “National” identification has been driven, over the decades, by evolving
- Animal disease control and eradication (Tuberculosis, Brucellosis etc.)
- Herd Improvement through progressive genetics relying on the collection of precise individual
performance and traits data)
- High level pedigree herds monitoring in all top breeds (Angus, Charollais, Holstein, Herefords etc.)
- Production and movement control, associated with the control of subsidies in concerned regions.
- Control of sanitary crises (BSE, Foot & Mouth Disease, Dioxine, Plague etc.), and contention of
their geographical extent through a precise knowledge of herd locations and movements.
- Ensuring the certification of herd based warranties for farmers’ loans.
- Consumer confidence in Food safety through traceability.
- Market access for meat and dairy exporters.
Since the early 2000’s, Management and Official identification systems have tended to converge and have become recognized as fundamental prerequisites to efficient livestock management, for the common benefit of producers and consumers throughout the world.
The increasing adoption of electronic identification has strongly increased the efficiency and reliability of Official identification schemes (Australia, Canada, Uruguay) through the automated capture of individual identification in sale yards and abattoirs, and has added value to herd management, allowing an automated data capture through electronic readers in milking parlours, weighing scales, automatic feeding systems etc.