Tracking animals a fairly big deal


Have you ever heard of a goat being tattooed? Did you know it is a requirement for beef cattle, dairy cattle, and swine to have radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in their ears to be exhibited in the 4-H shows at the Jackson County 4-H Fair?

Did you know farmers cut notches into a pig’s ears to identify the litter and which one of the litter that particular piglet is?

If you have spent time at the fair, you might have noticed rabbits and goats with tattoos. You might also have seen cattle, swine, goats and sheep boasting tags in their ears. How about the pigs? Did you notice ear notches as you walked up and down the aisles in the swine barn?

All the methods mentioned previously are ways to identify animals, which allows farmers to keep accurate records of their herd/flock.

The Indiana State Board of Animal Health has outlined identification guidelines for all animals that will be on exhibit.

The Jackson County 4-H program ensures that all animals exhibited at the fair meet those requirements. A dedicated group of volunteers host Livestock Identification Days at the fairgrounds to assist families in permanently identifying their animals.

Other identification methods are done at home and then entered into 4-H’s online record keeping system, 4HOnline. Jackson County 4-H currently has 171 volunteers who help make the program possible. Of those 171 volunteers, 62 work directly with animal/livestock projects.

Although I was in 4-H as a child, I did not live on a farm, nor did I participate in any of the animal projects 4-H offers to youth. When I started in this position more than two years ago, I had a great deal to learn about animals.

I remember getting ready for my first Beef ID Day in February of 2016. I was chatting with my father-in-law, Joe VonDielingen, and he asked if they still nose-printed cattle as a means of identification for the 4-H program. Nose printing is much like finger printing, because the lines in the nose are specific and unique to each animal.

Now, cattle are identified using RFID tags and nose-printing is no longer used here. I had the privilege of attending the Seymour Chamber’s Ag Day Breakfast on March 14 and learned from Tom Bechman, editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, that farmers used to tattoo chickens. That is no longer the case and times have changed. Although the methods of identifying animals over the years have changed, the purpose remains the same.

I have learned a great deal about animals over the past two years, and I continually learn more every year from our dedicated volunteers.

One thing I never thought I would ever learn how to do (or really, know it was even possible) was how to retinal image scan sheep and goats. For 4-H members to show their sheep or goats at the Indiana State Fair, a retinal image scan of the animal’s eyes is a definite requirement.

I attended a training in Monroe County two years ago with three Jackson County 4-H volunteers: Jimmie Burchett, Charles McKeand and Troy Thompson to learn how to work the new technology from Summit View Solutions.

On February 10th, our 4-H beef volunteers were at the fairgrounds for several hours identifying and weighing beef cattle. On April 28th, dairy beef feeder steers will be identified early in the morning, while sheep and goats will be identified that same day from 11a.m. to 3 p.m.

We will finish up the 4-H Animal ID Days on May 1st and 3rd with swine identification. Each of these ID Days last for several hours and would not be possible without our dedicated 4-H volunteers and Junior Leaders.

Why do we require our youth to identify their animals? Why do we keep such meticulous records and require families to input their animal identification information into an online system?

These questions can be answered by looking to the Indiana 4-H program: “The purpose of the Indiana 4-H Livestock Program is to provide real-life educational opportunities that allow youth to develop livestock skills and learn about animal-related careers, and more importantly to learn what it means to be responsible for something other than themselves. The main goal of the 4-H livestock program is to ensure 4-H members are learning to ethically raise, care for, and exhibit their animals to meet current food safety guidelines.”

To learn more about Animal Identification from Purdue University, check out “Barn Chatter,” a podcast facilitated by Aaron Fisher, State 4-H Livestock Specialist:

Heather VonDielingen is the Jackson County Purdue Extension Educator.

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