Tattooing
A Basic Review


Proper Identification of your animals is a breeders' first responsibility. This is accomplished by correct tattooing in both ears with a combination of letters and numbers. The first thing a breeder must do is apply for their ranch identification letters which will be cleared by the American Lowline Registry or ALR. For example, mine are MA for Melody Acres.
The second thing is to understand that each Year is assigned a letter: 2004 P, 2005 R. 2006 S, 2007 T, 2008 U, 2009 W. The letters I, O, Q and V are never used as a year letter. Please note: No two living animals of the same sex, in the same herd may have the same tattoo.

Tattoos read as a letter/number sequence; first the ranch identification letters (your personal herd prefix), second, a number you assign for each animal, and third, the year letter which corresponds to the year of birth of the animal. An Example is MA01S.

Necessary materials needed to tattoo are as follows:

  • Halter to restrain the animal in the chute or "pigging string" if very young.
  • Tattooer There are different types of ear tattoers. I use a revolving tattooer with my ranch letters on one side and the numbers on the other. There are two types of letters and numbers - the old metal and the new plastic. I happen to know the metal ones will last for at least 30 years! I'm not so sure about the plastic. They can be bought individually or as a group numbers 0-9 and letters A-Z. There are two sizes, 3/8 & 3/16 with the 3/8 the larger and the 3/16 the smaller. If you use the smaller on newborns, the tattoo will grow with the animal.
  • Tattoo Kit Contains your letters and numbers. Keep your letters and numbers clean and rust free and out of the dirt!

    Suppliers of tattoo equipment:
    American livestock Supply 1800-356-0700
    Jeffers 1-800-533-3377
    Nasco 1800-5589595
  • Rubbing Alcohol Use this on a paper towel to thoroughly clean the ears before applying paste and tattooing. Put some in a small spray bottle to disinfect the tattooer between animals.
  • INK Green ink is used on black animals. The paste, although messier, is much better than the roller. I was taught to put the paste within the rib before you tattoo. You can also tattoo first and then rub the paste in. I use Ketchum's green paste ink.
  • Toothbrush Use a firm, not soft toothbrush, to rub the paste into the completed tattoo. Clean well after the day is finished.
  • Gloves Tattooing is a messy job and you may or may not want to use gloves. Tattoo ink comes out with an abrasive soap and a brush…sort of! Be sure to keep tattoo equipment clean and replace old or dull characters. A build up of ink or broken and dull equipment can result in illegible tattoos. Keep you equipment away from dirt to halt the possibility of infection.

    Getting Started

    1. Restrain the animal.

    2. Get your letters and numbers correct for the individual animal on the tattooer - Always check on a piece of paper as it is very easy to put the letters in wrong because they are mirror image when you put them in the pliers! Have your matching ear-tag ready.

    3. Use the alcohol and the paper towel or pad to clean the ears thoroughly of wax and dirt. If the ear is really hairy - clip the hair as this can interfere with the tattoo. Do not tattoo on the ribs of the ears as they bleed freely and will washout your ink. Use the paper towel and pressure to stop any bleeding if you hit one. Stay away from the hairline as well.

    4. Apply ink as follows:
    Bulls Apply ink between the first (top) and second rib (middle) on the right and left ears of bulls. If you can fit it all on one rib- use the middle. The ALR requires tattoos in both ears. Tag on the right ear.

    Heifers Check with your vet where he puts the bangs vaccination tattoo on the right ear. My vet tattooes on the top right, so on heifers I tattoo the middle and bottom sections on the right ear -Numbers in the middle and MA below the bottom rib and in the left ear I tattoo the top and middle sections - MA in the top section and numbers in the middle section. I also put my tag on the left ear for females and on the right ear for bulls so I can tell them apart at a glance.

    5. Find the area to be tattooed. Now squeeze HARD (and expect the animal to jump). Lift the pliers out straight so you don't have scratches that can ruin your tattoo. Now take the toothbrush (with ink on it) and rub the tattooed area well. You may get some bleeding- that's OK- rub until it stops.

    6. Apply your tag - center or lower section close to the head (do not interfere with your tattoo).

    7. Sanitize your pliers. Clean and soak in disinfectant (not iodine based) after you are finished tattooing for the day. Don't worry about Momma licking the ears - she won't disturb the tattoo. After several weeks, the ink will dry and flake off leaving a legible tattoo. Always check it before selling or showing as they can fade over time.

    Another article to reference is a good one written by John Reed in the Spring 2007 Lowline Ledger.