Pig Identification: Tattoo Branding and Ear Tagging
Identification of pigs going for sale or slaughter is an essential part of monitoring for diseases and chemical residues. To protect human health and maintain public confidence in pig meats it is vital that any disease, chemical contamination or antibacterial residue is quickly traced back to its source. This allows the problem to be rectified before contaminated product gets into the food chain. To meet the increasing demands of consumers for healthy and safe foods, identification at slaughter is essential in this process. The reputation of pig meats and therefore the viability of producers depends on reliable identification.
Obtaining a Pig Tattoo Brand
Owners of pigs are required to make application to the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR), for the issue of a Property Identification Code (PIC), if they do not already have one for their property, and a Pig Tattoo Brand. This can be done at any local DEDJTR office and there is no charge for either service. Applicants will be advised by post or phone of their new PIC and tattoo brand. The brand will start with the numeral 3, indicating Victoria, followed by three letters. Producers who cease to keep pigs on their property are required to notify our Livestock Identification help line on 1800 678 779.
Victoria introduced pig tattoo branding requirements in December 1977, in conjunction with other States. Following consultation with industry, the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 has requirements for the identification of pigs being consigned for sale or slaughter. The requirements are:
- All pigs being consigned for sale, or to an abattoir or knackery for slaughter, must be identified by either a tattoo brand or ear tag, depending on bodyweight, before they leave their property of origin.
- Pigs less than 25 kg body weight must be tagged with an approved ear tag. This tag has the same numbers as the tattoo brand. It is not an option to tattoo pigs less than 25 kg body weight; they must be ear tagged.
- Pigs over 25 kg body weight are required to be tattooed with the owner's tattoo brand.
- Pigs that have been purchased earlier and are then sold must be tattooed with the current dispatching property tattoo brand.
- All pigs must be accompanied by a current and valid PigPass National Vendor Declaration (NVD) when moving from a property to a saleyard or abattoir. Pigs also require a PigPass NVD when moving from property to property, except where the ownership of the pig(s) remains unchanged and the property of dispatch can be identified for the life of the pigs. To obtain a PigPass NVD, phone the PigPass help line on 1800 001 458.
All owners of pigs are required to comply with these requirements.
The tattoo branding equipment includes the striker with the tattoo brand and permanent tattoo paste or ink. The numeral and letters must be at least 20 mm high, 12 mm wide and 2.5 mm apart. The pins producing the tattoo must be tapered needles at least 6.8 mm long. Carbon based tattooing paste or ink is essential for correct tattooing. Products such as stock sprays, bale stencilling ink or boot polish are unacceptable because they are likely to wash out in the hot water bath during the dehairing process at the abattoir, thus making the tattoo unreadable.
When and where to tattoo and ear tag
Pigs being sent to a saleyard, abattoir or another property must be identified before leaving the property. The tattoo or tag must identify the property from where the pigs are dispatched. The tattoo should be placed on the left shoulder where it can be easily read on the abattoir processing chain. For pigs under 25 kg body weight, it may be better to apply the tags close to the dispatch date as some losses may occur through fighting.
Stock agents, livestock carriers and abattoir operators
Stock agents, livestock carriers and abattoir operators have an important role to ensure that pigs without tattoo brands or ear tags do not get to saleyards, abattoirs or knackeries. For this reason all three groups have legal responsibilities. A carrier who transports pigs to a saleyard, abattoir or knackery without an approved tattoo brand or ear tag is in breach of the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994. Likewise, a stock agent who sells pigs without an approved tattoo brand or ear tag is also in breach of the same Act. An abattoir operator must ensure that unidentified pigs are not slaughtered until authorised by the Senior Inspector or Quality Control Officer, after the saleyard lot or property of origin has been determined.
Hints for good tattoo branding
- Make sure that the number and letters are in the correct order on the striker plate - stamp a piece of cardboard or look at them in a mirror.
- Make sure that all needles on the brand are clean - grease, dirt, hair and tattooing paste quickly build up on the needles. If not cleaned regularly the tattoo brand will become illegible. Clogged needles can also be a source of infection.
- Use only carbon-based tattooing paste or ink.
- Reapply paste or ink to the needles before each pig is tattoo branded.
- All needles must pierce the skin; take a good solid swing making sure that the face of the brand lands flat on the skin - it should leave a rectangular mark on the skin surface.
- Pigs with excessive dirt or soil may need to be washed on the shoulder area before tattooing.
- Brands with worn, broken or damaged needles should be replaced.
The tattoo brand should be applied to the left shoulder where it can readily be seen during meat inspection at the abattoir. A good tattoo brand will be clearly readable after the dehairing process.
Tattoo equipment suppliers
Tattooing equipment including strikers, numbers and ink can be ordered through most stock and station agents or at local rural merchandise stores or livestock equipment retailers. The allocated tattoo brand for the location where the pigs are housed will need to be quoted when ordering a tattoo striker.
Pig ear tag suppliers
Ear tags for pigs under 25 kg bodyweight can be ordered from local rural merchandise stores or directly from tag manufacturers. The allocated tattoo brand for the location where the pigs are housed will need to be quoted when ordering ear tags. A search on the internet will also give producers many different options for tattoo equipment and/or ear tag suppliers or they can ask their local stock and station agent or the department's animal health staff.
Published and Authorised by:
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
1 Spring Street
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The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication