Animal Identification

Why Keep Records?

Records are essential when raising animals for food production. To ensure consumer confidence and maintain the marketability of meat products, livestock owners need to document the safety of their product. Through effective recordkeeping, producers can strengthen consumer confidence by demonstrating tight control over potential risk factors. Recordkeeping also provides a tool for producers to monitor quality, efficiency, effectiveness, and success within their herd management scheme. Complete, accurate livestock records also assist producers in making management decisions regarding breeding, culling, and sale.

Animal identification is essential for record keeping and all animals should have a unique identifying number. Most breed registration associations for livestock require that the animals be marked with a permanent tattoo (usually in their ear). However, slaughter animals are unlikely to be registered with a breed association and are generally identified with a unique number instead. Ear tagging is the preferred method of animal identification. Some species combine health program compliance tags (such as CWD or scrapie tags) with their own farm tags. For species requiring dual identification, such as cervids, dual tags or a combination of an ear tag and tattoo or microchip is required. Accurate birth records are also essential for product testing and assuring quality to consumers. Ear notching may be an acceptable form of identification if performed on animals less than two weeks of age and acceptable for regulatory agencies for that species of animal.

Depending on how animals are managed, breeding dates may not be known. However, dates of birth for resulting offspring should be noted down if possible. Accurate birth records are essential for age verification of slaughter animals and have a direct impact on product testing, quality assurance and on legal requirements for discarding specific parts of the animal depending on whether the animal is of an age to be infected with specific pathogens.

Regardless of the production methods incorporated on a facility, records of all drugs used including immunizations, anthelmintics (dewormers), antibiotics, implants, etc. should be recorded. Farmers are encouraged to keep and maintain records on all animals for pertinent production parameters, vaccinations given, and any other drug treatments.

Additional record keeping requirements may be required depending upon the species raised. The following Uniform Methods and Rules may be applicable to certain farmers.

USDA APHIS Scrapie Eradication Uniform Methods and Rules

USDA APHIS Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication Uniform Methods and Rules

USDA APHIS Bovine Brucellosis Eradication Uniform Methods and Rules

USDA APHIS Swine Brucellosis Eradication Uniform Methods and Rules

USDA APHIS Cervidae Brucellosis Eradication Uniform Methods and Rules

Animal Health Treatment Records

Records of health treatments given to animals are necessary to prevent the harvest of animals prior to completion of safe, legal withdrawal periods. The drug withdrawal period is the time lapse required after administration of a pharmecuetical, to assure that drug residues in the marketable product are below a pre-determined safe maximum residue limit (MRL)). Records on chemical use, feed and drug purchase, etc., can also help safeguard an operation should questions arise concerning animals sold.

For individuals with one or two backyard animals, or for those keeping individual records for animals, record keeping can be as simple as recording:

  • Origin information and date (record who the animal was purchased from who or if the animal was born at your facility. If the animal was not born at your facility, obtain record of birth from the place of origin.)
  • Sire and Dam identification
  • Immunizations, date and dosage
  • Parasite tests, date and results
  • Parasite treatment, date and dosage
  • Feed quantity and type
  • Injuries and illnesses (cause and treatment)
  • Weight or size, at time of sale
  • Disposition information (death, personal use or private sale, and price received)

When livestock are processed as a group, all livestock within the group shall be identified as such, and the following information recorded:

  • Group or lot identification.
  • Date treated.
  • Product administered and manufacturer’s lot/serial number.
  • Dosage used.
  • Route and location of administration.
  • Earliest date animals will have cleared withdrawal period.
  • Weight or size, at time of sale
  • Disposition information (death, personal use or private sale- include date, contact information of new owner or processing plant, and price received)

All livestock shipped to slaughter will be checked by appropriate personnel to assure that animals that have been treated meet or exceed label or prescription withdrawal times for all animal health products administered. All processing and treatment records should be transferred with the livestock to the next production level. Prospective buyers must be informed of any livestock that have not met withdrawal times.

Another suggested tip for producers is to keep notes on all stock that goes to slaughter; i.e.: kill weight, dressed weight or percentage, grade of meat, price received, etc. This information can prove helpful for fine-tuning management or providing records for filing tax forms at year’s end.

Records are only functional when they are complete and accurate. A periodic review of records and record keeping methods will help catch mistakes and oversights while they can still be easily corrected. A suggested management practice would be to review records quarterly.

Records should be kept for a minimum of 2 years (3 years of records are required if the farm uses any Restricted Use Pesticides). Be aware that not all processing facilities require records on animals. However, if a problem arises then the farmer will be held accountable, and will be required to submit livestock records showing any products given to their animals for the previous two year and the sale of individual animals to and from the farm.

Aging an Animal Without a Birth Certificate Through Dentition

Dentition is the development of teeth and their arrangement in the mouth. For many years, producers, veterinarians, and exhibitors have used dentition to make general age determinations. Dentition will vary from herd-to-herd and animal-to-animal, because of the animal’s genetics, their diet, and the varied geographical locations in which they are raised. When the age of an animal is not known, (or when there are no birth certificates) the best and most practical way to determine age is by an examination of the teeth.

There are three types of teeth found in the bovine: incisors, premolars, and molars. Incisor teeth are found in the front of the mouth, but they are absent from the upper jaw. The premolars and molars are found in the back of the mouth and are present in both the upper (maxilla) and lower (mandible) jaws.

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At birth, calves have deciduous teeth, known as temporary, milk, or baby teeth. The deciduous teeth are lost as the animal ages and they are replaced by the permanent teeth. Calves have a total of 20 deciduous teeth. There are no deciduous molars and a deciduous premolar is not present. Gradually permanent teeth replace deciduous teeth.

The deciduous incisors differ from the permanent incisors in being much smaller. The crowns (that part of the tooth that is covered with enamel) of the deciduous incisors are narrower then the permanent incisors and they diverge more from the base (at the gum line) of the tooth to the apex when compared to the permanent incisors.

An animal 14 months of age would have a full set of deciduous incisors. All four pairs of teeth are temporary and firmly in place. The teeth are short, broad and usually have a bright, ivory color. There is usually space between the Di 1 incisors. Other incisors may touch on the inside corner at the top of the tooth. As the animal ages, the deciduous teeth become loosely set in the jaw. The teeth appear longer and narrower then in younger animals and the teeth may or may not be touching at the upper corners.

The permanent incisors usually erupt at an angle and straighten into a definite pattern with growth. Animals with eruption of one or more central incisors are considered to be 18 – 24 months of age. When one or both middle (I 2) incisors erupt, the animal is considered to be 24 – 30 months of age.

Cattle that have the middle (I 2) incisor (or incisors) erupted are in the 24 – 30 month age range. However, FSIS, as written in FSIS Notice 5-04, is using a conservative approach and is determining that cattle with eruption of at least one of the second set of permanent incisors (I 2) is 30 months of age or older.

The eruption of the lateral (I 3 or second intermediate) incisor (or incisors) indicates that the animal has reached 36 months of age. The eruption of the corner (I 4) incisor (or incisors) indicates that the animal has reached at least 42 months of age.

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