Identification of cattle


Ratification Date: 18 Jun 2009


A national system enabling individual identification and traceability of cattle is strongly supported as it is a critical tool for effective farm management, food safety, disease control and international trade.


Radiofrequency identification device (RFD) ear tags and rumen implants are the most humane methods of accurately identifying cattle. Where branding is necessary in many situations, the use of freeze branding is recommended in preference to hot-iron branding for permanent identification.

Further research into the development of new methods for permanently identifying cattle which are practical, humane, easy to use, affordable, and enable unique animal identification, is recommended.

Unique identification of cattle can currently be provided by using either the National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) or a combination of unique animal numbers within statutory property identification schemes.

NLIS is Australia’s system for the identification and tracking of cattle. It is a national scheme that is designed to record ownership of cattle and the history of their movements between properties. The federal, state and territory governments work with cattle industry organisations to implement the scheme. It is a valuable tool for the control of disease and tracing chemical residue detections and gives consumers in Australia and overseas confidence in Australia’s beef and dairy products. NLIS helps to protect the Australian cattle industry’s credibility as a supplier of wholesome beef and dairy products and gives it an advantage in domestic and export markets.

There are currently some shortcomings in the practical implementation of electronic identification methods in the extensive pastoral areas of Australia. In addition, some states currently require permanent identification of cattle using branding for legal transactions and sales. Until this changes, branding will need to be used as a practical method for the permanent identification of cattle and should comply with the following guidelines.


Recommended procedures for freeze branding

Liquid nitrogen and dry ice are satisfactory sources of freezing medium for freeze branding.

It is advisable to freeze brand when cattle are over 6 months of age, in order to minimise distortion of the brand.

Becausethe application of the irons is for a limited time (less than 20 seconds) and the procedure involves limited pain, no anaesthetic is required.

Suitable facilities should be provided to comfortably restrain cattle so that only minimal body movement is possible during application of branding irons. The area to be branded should be clipped free of hair to provide close contact between the branding iron and the skin. The branding iron should be clean and free from organic material and oxidisation.

Recommended procedures for hot-iron branding

Cattle may be branded at the same time as ear marking, dehorning, castration or application of prophylactic or production-aimed medication, including vaccines. Only healthy and fit animals should be branded.

Provision of suitable anaesthesia or analgesia is often impracticable or impossible for hot-iron branding under extensive pastoral management systems, where large numbers of cattle are handled. In such cases, hot-iron branding should be performed as efficiently and as humanely as possible to minimise pain in the cattle.

Cattle should not be branded if their hair is wet. Branding should not be conducted if animals are expected to get wet within 24 hours.

Animals to be branded must be comfortably restrained to allow minimal body movement so that the site to be branded is stationary and easily accessible. The animal should be released into an open yard immediately after branding and then within 6 hours to a normal grazing environment.

The branding site should be dry and clean skin, preferably pre-clipped if the hair is long. The branding area should have minimal dust. Sites posterior to a perpendicular line through the tubal coxa, and above the hock, but not within 100 mm of the knee or hock joint, of the anus or vagina, or of the midline, are recommended. Alternatively, sites posterior to the shoulder, above the elbow, and anterior to a perpendicular line through the posterior edge of the scapula, but not within 100 mm of the midline or shoulder or elbow joints, are acceptable.

The branding iron should provide contact surface all in one plane with a width of contact surface of at least 2.5 mm. The iron must be free of organic matter and oxidised metal.

Branding should be performed by, or under the direct supervision of, an experienced competent operator. Cattle of any age can be hot-iron branded. Hot irons should be heated to, and not beyond, a dull-red colour immediately prior to application. The iron’s flat surface should be held firmly against the skin until the hair and superficial skin under the contact surfaces are burnt, and not longer than three seconds, whichever is shorter.

Other relevant policies and position statements

Electronic identification of animals

Date of ratification by AVA Board 15 February 2013


Animal Health Australia

Meat and Livestock Australia