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  Miniature Hereford Breeders Association

How to Tattoo

Permanent Identification of your cattle- Tattoo Techniques

As with any project, you want to make sure that you have all the supplies you will need to do the job as well as having the knowledge of how to actually complete it.

One important element to keep an accurate record regarding cattle on your Ranch/Farm is what tattoos are given and to whom. The tattoo that you give an individual animal will be its legal form of identification (only second to branding). A readable tattoo is required for registering an animal. You will need this number to be able to register any of your cattle with the American Hereford Association (AHA) as well as prove identity at some Miniature Hereford shows. Proper identification at birth and legible tattoos are essential to maintaining accurate parentage and production records of Hereford cattle.  Hereford breeders were the first to adopt the ear tattoo as a requirement for registry.  

Tattooing can be done at any time, but it is highly recommended to do it at a young age, preferably before 3 months of age.  The reason for this is that the younger you tattoo a calf the more legible it will be.  The reason is that as the calf grows so do the ears, thus making the tattoo larger and easier to read.

Prior to beginning the tattoo process, you will need to decide on what type of number system you will incorporate in your identification records.   When deciding how to design your tattoo number system there is many things to consider. The most important thing is that it must make sense to you and you should use the same method consistently throughout the years.  Remember that the AHA year code changes annually, and although that digit is not required to be part of your tattoo numbering system, it is highly recommended.

Here is the current year and Letter code recommended by AHA:

2019-G

2022-K

2025-N

2028-S

2031-W

2034-Z

2037-C

2020-H

2023-L

2026-P

2029-T

2032-X

2035-A

2038-D

2021-J

2024-M

2027-R

2030-U

2033-Y

2036-B

2039-E

As one example of a tattoo number system, you can utilize a simple, four-digit structure. The first digit represents the first letter in your last name, the next two digits are the number code for that calf (first calf in each year would be 01, the second calf is 02, etc.), and the last digit is of course the AHA year code letter.  So for example, the fourth calf born in the year 2019 on "Joe Herefords" ranch would have the tattoo number...H04G...see, it is simple.  Remember that a registered tattoo can have a maximum of eight characters in a straight line when you are developing your tattoo number system. Again, tattoo numbering systems can be unique for each ranch, but should remain consistent from year to year.

It is highly recommended that you use a cattle chute to do all your tattooing.  A good working chute is important for a legible tattoo.  The chute should be able to restrain your animal from making any quick head movements that may cause an unsuccessful tattooing experience.

OK, Let’s Learn How To Tattoo:

It is necessary to have all the proper supplies prior to beginning the tattooing process.   When you are ready to tattoo cattle, here is a list of general supplies that you will need:

  • ü  Rag- used to clean ear prior to tattoo                                 
  • ü  Alcohol- clean digits and plyers before and after each tattoo        
  • ü  Scissors- clip excess hair from inside ear if needed
  • ü  Toothbrush- used to brush tattoo ink into finished tattoo
  • ü  Tattoo plyers- tool used to apply tattoo
  • ü  Tattoo ink- green or black    
  • ü  Tattoo digits
  • ü  Lightweight cardboard

Prior to beginning the tattoo process, you will need to decide on what type of number system you will incorporate in your identification records.   When deciding how to design your tattoo number system there is many things to consider. The most important thing is that it must make sense to you and you should use the same method consistently throughout the years.  Remember that the AHA year code changes annually, and although that digit is not required to be part of your tattoo numbering system, it is highly recommended.

Here is the current year and Letter code recommended AHA

2019-G

2022-K

2025-N

2028-S

2031-W

2034-Z

2037-C

2020-H

2023-L

2026-P

2029-T

2032-X

2035-A

2038-D

2021-J

2024-M

2027-R

2030-U

2033-Y

2036-B

2039-E



1) Gather supplies needed

Be sure that you have all of your supplies ready and in one place so that you do not have to stop and go get something.

2) Place tattoo digits in plyers

The tattoo plyers can be purchased at any livestock supply dealer, be sure to purchase both numbers and letters.  You may need to purchase 2 sets of each depending on your chosen tattoo system.  As for choice of green or black ink, it really doesn’t matter. You can get these colors in either a paste or roll on.  You might prefer the roll on as it isn’t as messy to use.  




3) Practice on cardboard to make sure it is correct before using in ear.
You should do a practice tattoo on a piece of cardboard (without the ink) first to make sure that the tattoo is correct for each animal.  Remember that once you place the tattoo in the animal’s ear, it cannot be changed.  

It is also important that you use sharp tattoo digits so that you make an even perforation.  Some breeders do not throw away old dull or broken digits and thus have issues with illegible tattoos.


4) Clean plyers and digits

It is important to keep your equipment clean to prevent any infections.  Pour alcohol over your plyers and digits before and after each tattoo.