Identifying and Organizing Your Cattle

Cattle are one of the most common animals for ranches to keep, yet organizing them and keeping track can be a headache.  When trying to figure out your system, there are many options to pick from, but there’s no agreement that’s 100% either way.

If you’re trying to figure out how to track your animals, here are the top options to consider.

Why Identifying Cattle Matters

Keeping track of livestock is vital to ensure that the animals are healthy and get the chance to grow as large and quickly as expected.  If you don’t track your animals, you may miss when one suddenly loses weight or when another goes missing.

Although the average ranch is home to at least 32 heads, many still assume that they can handle identifying by sight alone.  Using markers like the following makes it far easier.

Ear Tags

Ear tags are quickly becoming the standard for identifying and organizing cattle.  The main reason for this is that they are easy to change out, the fact that they cause the animal far less pain or discomfort than the other options, and that they’re easy to stop even from a distance.

Ranchers who use Allflex ear tags can mark their animals based on age and sex and even change the labels once they’re not calves anymore.  These are fantastic tools for any rancher.


Tattoos started becoming popular for identifying and organizing cattle in the mid-1900s.  Not only does tattooing allow you to mark an animal in case it gets stolen permanently, but it also allows you to include whatever information you want.

Unfortunately, these have mixed results for multiple reasons.  Most important is the fact that ink can fade and shed out in some instances, making it harder to keep track of animals, and also, it causes more pain and distress than ear tags do.

Hot Brands

This is the most traditional way to keep track of animals, but it’s quickly coming under scrutiny within the last twenty years.

Although there are ethical ways to brand a steer, there’s no denying that it can be painful, it can lead to infections if not cared for, and it can be frustrating if you try to sell your cattle to another ranch and they won’t take them because they’re branded. So although this is one of the oldest ways to track your animal, it’s also quickly losing popularity.

Less Common Ways

There are a few other ways that are used, but these are far less common and decreasing in popularity.  Freeze brands attempt to work around the risk of hot brands, but, unfortunately, these are much more prone to infections.  Ear notches are popular in some communities, although their usefulness is debatable if farm hands or others don’t have a comprehensive knowledge of what each notch represents.

More humane options include neck chains from which you can hang tags saying anything you want on them.  However, these chains can lead to accidents where cattle get tangled or stuck or can even get harmed by them.  

The most important thing to do is to consider what’s right for your farm and your animals. Then, if you change your mind, you can always change methods down the line!

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