Identification in cattle
Instructor, SD Center of Farm/Ranch Business Management, Hot Springs
Most of the cows have been brought in for the winter months, but there still might be a few stragglers left out in the pasture. Do you know which ones? Everyone has their own style of identification. For many producers, a hot iron brand is the only way to identify which cattle belong to them. For some of you, ear tags are an additional way to identify livestock. We all know that over time between the twine on the bales, wire or trees that we will lose a few ear tags, or we don’t always get all our cows tagged in a timely manner. When you run those cows through the chute during your winter vaccinations, I encourage you to add ear tags that are missing on your cows.
There are a few ranchers who have started to freeze brand their cattle. I have always liked the method of freeze branding because no matter what happens to the tags, a freeze brand provides a permanent method of identification. Freeze brands can include a symbol to represent the ranch and also numbers to represent the individual animal; in our operation, a cow with the hip number 834 was born in 2008 and was the 34th heifer born that year. There are different techniques involved in freeze branding, so if you decide to try this method make sure you get advice from someone who has successfully freeze branded for a few years. This all leads me to my key point: If we can’t identify each cow and therefore what she has produced in the past, how do we know which ones we need to cull? Proper identification is essential in selecting replacement females, culling non-productive cows and breeding specific females to selected bulls. With cattle and hay prices being what they currently are, producers need to be diligent with their record keeping to ensure that they are keeping the animals that are making money and selling those that are not. A simple thing like properly identifying each animal can make a big difference in the annual bottom line of an operation.