Livestock Numbering Systems

Livestock identification is a necessity for any farmer with more than just a family cow. There are many reasons you need to track your cattle, goats, chickens, or whatever your livestock is. Maintaining a numbering system can help you prevent the spread of diseases and genetic deformations, keep track of the age of your herd, and and monitor production. Many new farmers don't think about this soon enough when building their herd. It doesn't become an issue until it is nearly too late.
If you're a new farmer beginning to build up your livestock, or even an old hand who is looking for some fresh ideas, here are some numbering system ideas.

An animal's number is meant to provide a means of identifying the livestock. Additionally, most systems employ the birth year of the animal in the number to allow for easily determining the age without having to consult the records. Most new livestock is assigned a number and tagged at birth. Some farms wait until the end of their birthing season or until vaccination and branding time to mark their new offspring.

Typical identification systems consist of two separate numbers combined. The first digit or letter will indicate the year the animal was born. For example, any calves or chicks born in 2009 will have an ID number beginning with a '9'. Newborns in 2010 will have a '0'.

The second part is simply a sequential number that indicates in what order all new births were born that year. The first chick or kid of the year will be 01, the next 02, and so on. If you have a large herd, or intend on growing it, consider using three digits instead of two!

Some animals live to be more than 10 years old. Cattle in particular tend to live past the decade point. As you can imagine, this is a disaster for record keeping! While it may be easy to see in the field whether a cow is 11 years old or only 1, your spreadsheet or tracking software isn't so astute. For this reason, some farmers will use a letter to indicate the birth year. Instead of a '9' for 2009, they will indicate it as a 'W'. 2010 will be an 'X'. Standard years are usually utilized, so that the letters indicate the same year across different farms.

Since several letters look just like numbers from a distance, these are not typically used. Those letters are I, O, Q, and Z. That leaves 22 years worth of letters. If your cow is living to be that old, you have something special on your hands!

These are just a few different numbering systems that farmers use to identify their herd. It's up to the individual farm to determine how they will track their livestock. The important thing is to get it started before it's too late!

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