From Branding to Electronic Tags: How Livestock Identification Has Evolved


As a means of more easily keeping track of animals, as well as marking ownerships, the need for livestock identification arose. Over the years, identification methods have evolved. Learn about some of the earliest methods as well as the most recent evolutions.


Branding has been achieved by many means, but the earliest use was to heat up an iron with the livestock owner’s “mark” and apply it to the animal. Branding livestock can be traced back as far as ancient Egyptian times. Some ranches still use this method to this day.

Another method of branding with an iron is freeze branding, in which an iron has been chilled with dry ice, nitrogen, or another coolant before being applied to the animal. Rather than leaving a scar, freeze branding damages the hair cells responsible for pigment, which turns the animal’s hair color white.


The earliest ear tag was developed for King George III in 1799. Since then a few different types have been used, such as:

  • Button shaped

  • Flag shaped

  • Metal

  • Plastic clip

  • Electronic

Some of the above are joined through the ear, while others are clipped over it.


Ear tags often have an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip. Containing electronically stored information, the chips are usually passive and only transmit the data when within the range of a reader. This data is then sent to database, where the information can be easily accessed.

From tattoos to microchips to collars and anklets, there are many other forms of identification options used. It will be interesting to see what the future has in store for livestock identification.