Identification has always been an important aspect of extensive beef cattle management, initially as a method of proof of ownership either because of theft or when herds became mixed for some reason.

Photo No.: 106109 Title: Calves were weighed and tattooed on the ear at birth at the Struan Research Centre. Date: 28 Mar 1973

As it became necessary to identify individual animals for stud breeding purposes or to record individual production data the process became more difficult and numerous attempts have been made to find an efficient, safe and reliable means of identification.

The various Brands Acts relied on the traditional firebrand method as a permanent identification of ownership and generally it has been highly successful although, inappropriately applied brands significantly reduce the value of the hide.

Tattoos in the ears proved suitable to identify individual stud animals but with the disadvantage that they had to be individually restrained to be read. Freeze branding was tried in the seventies with an elaborate roman numerals type code to simplify the branding process. Over many years numerous types of ear tags have been utilised for individual identification but none are failsafe.

Temporary tailtags (ratchet and wrap around) were successfully developed as part of the BTB program to track animals through the saleyard and slaughter process to provide traceback of diseased animals back to the property of origin.

Consumers now require assurance that food products are safe from micro organisms and chemical residues. Procedures are in place to test products in the marketing chain and it is then essential to be able to trace the problem back to the animal at the abattoir and then to originating property to implement preventative action. For example in 1987 US authorities detected organochlorine residues in imports of Australian beef risking the invaluable US beef market. Food safety incidents in beef were occurring at the rate of two per year in 1997. The ability to be able to trace animals throughout their lifetime is essential for the control of chronic animal diseases such as Johnes Disease and Enzootic Bovine Leucosis.

In 1999 following a number of organochlorine, HGP’s (Hormone Growth Promotant) and other residue incidents, a voluntary cattle accreditation scheme for cattle exported to the European Union was launched. This scheme required electronic identification of all cattle involved, accredited saleyards and abattoirs. This was the forerunner to the compulsory electronic identification scheme which was phased in from January 2004. By 2006 it was fully operational and tailtags were phased out.

In conjunction with this owners can, with the use of an electronic reader, identify individual cattle for selection or production records throughout the animals life.

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