Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cattle Record Keeping

Backyard cattle raising is fun and sometimes confusing too specially if there's no proper record keeping. In our case for now we have 20 heads and counting. Everything is manage by my father in law and he is familiar on who is responsible on a particular cow. But I am looking at a picture where the number of heads would increase. What if there are 50 heads? This prompts me to search for applications or methods on how to do a proper record keeping.

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The recording systems outlined present a package of practical records for beef producers. You can change them to suit your particular needs. The number of records maintained and the detail recorded will vary according to individual needs and how the information is to be used. Each record should have a specific objective and be used for that purpose.

While many beef producers achieve genetic improvement in their herds without keeping individual cow records, a sound management program and careful subjective selection assessment are required. Individual cow records allow for objective assessment of heritable and repeatable traits. They enable you to accurately measure genetic improvement and monitor individual cow fertility and production.

The record formats shown in this Agfact, the second of the two-part series, cover individual breeding cow records that can be applied to breeding herds. The emphasis is on recording production information that is useful in selection decisions for herd improvement and herd fertility monitoring.

What to record

What you record will depend on your needs and your capability to record information. The records you choose to keep should be related to the purpose you are going to use them for, such as selecting heifers, culling cows or forming a nucleus herd for breeding bulls. Producers interested in performance recording and registering animals with BREEDPLAN  will require more detailed record keeping.

Information recorded should mostly be on:

heritable traits, i.e. birthweight, calving difficulty, cancer eye
repeatable traits, i.e. fertility, calving date.

Checklist of records to keep
Cow information
tag number or other identification
year/date of birth
sire/dam record and/or breed
frame size
pigmentation (if applicable)
performance record
Cow performance
Annual records of:

sire mated
pregnancy test result
calving date
calf identification
sex of calf
weight of calf at weaning
performance ranking


If you are going to record information about individual animals, you need to be able to identify each animal in the herd over a number of years. The easiest way to achieve this at present is to use plastic ear tags.

The Australian beef industry is moving towards a whole-of-life identification system. Trials are currently underway throughout Australia to assess a range of ear tags and rumen capsule identification systems.

Ear tag identification systems

Plastic ear tags are not loss-proof! Where more permanent identification is necessary, a back-up tag (or ear tattoo) is desirable.

Adopting an ear tag identification program is pointless if you do not plan to ‘mother up’ cows with their annual calf drop.

Ear tags are used to give an individual number, to indicate age and, if required, to show the breeding of the cow or cow group. For example, ‘310’ may represent cow number 10, born in 1993—the first number shows the year of birth and the following numbers identify the individual cow.

Different-coloured tags or the addition of letters above the identification number can be used to record the sire. Cows that fail to rear a calf can have their ear tag notched to identify them for culling and disposal.

A useful alternative to the common plastic ear tag is the pink ear tag system. Calves can be tagged with pink ear tags (the pink colour denoting HGP-free status), individually numbered in addition to displaying the tail tag number. This means you can use the ear tag instead of the tail tag, and have the benefit of using it as a management tag as well.

Calves treated with HGPs can be tagged with orange ear tags—these calves must have their ‘off’ ear (the right ear) punched with a triangular punch.

Two systems exist for tagging calves: tagging at birth or tagging at marking.

Tagging at birth can be done in two ways:

    * Allocating permanent numbers
          o Heifer calves are allocated a permanent number, e.g. for 1993 calving, numbers would start at 301 or 3001 for the first calf born.
          o Numbers are allocated in order of age. It is then easy to draft into age groups for ‘performance testing without scales’.
          o Male calves can be included in the number sequence or can be given a different set of numbers starting at 1. Linking the perf
ormance of those calves later in life to their dam is important for genetic progress.
    * Numbering all calves with mother’s number
          o This simplifies mothering-up.
          o Replacement heifers are given a permanent number at their first joining.

Tagging at marking:

Calves are numbered, from 1 up, as they run through the calf race.
Odd-numbered tags can be used for steers and even-numbered tags can be used for heifers, or different tag colours can be used.
By observation, cows and calves are ‘mothered up’ during the period between marking and weaning.
When the heifers are to be joined, they can be tagged with a permanent number in line with the cow sequence.
Heifers can be permanently tagged, using the cow sequence format, at marking. For example, at the marking of the 1993 calf drop, the first heifer calf through the race would be tagged number 301.

Points to note about your identification system
Sufficient room should be allowed on your tags for the individual cow number to appear after the year number. Herd size will determine how much room will be needed.
Your ear tag identification numbers should be the same as those shown in your office records.
Correct tag placement will minimise tag losses and provide good legibility.

Office records
Having taken the effort to design an identification system, the next step is to decide upon a system of office records to store the information you wish to keep.

A range of options exist for keeping permanent herd records in the farm office. Traditionally the most versatile of all these options was the use of cow record cards, one card for each cow. However, with the developments in technology, both simple and advanced computer software programs for herd recording are now available. Laptop computers can also be used in the yards to avoid duplication of information.

Cow record cards

Individual breeding cow records need to be kept in a simple, easy-to-use format. Cow record cards have the following advantages:

The full productive history of the cow can be seen at a glance.
The cards can be filed in various ways, for example in paddock groups or in number order within age groups.
As cows are culled and sold, the cards are removed from the system but are retained in order to trace family histories. 

A calving notebook is used to record calving details in the paddock for transfer immediately to cow record cards.
It is easy to draft out, in the office, the top and bottom cows, older cows, and heifer replacements.
An example of a cow record card is given below. A record card size 12.5 cm × 20 cm is recommended. On the back of the card, vaccination and health details can be recorded

An alternative to using cards is to use pages in a loose-leaf folder, with one page per cow. This gives the flexibility to move record pages into groups, but this method is more cumbersome than a card system.

Computer programs are rapidly becoming the most preferred and reliable source of herd recording.

Bull cards

Herd bulls can also be recorded on a computer or card system. The card entries can show age, breeding description, vendor, purchase price, annual joining records, health treatments, frame size, testicular size, and details on breeding soundness and identification.

Cattle notebook

By adopting a card system in the office, all you need in the paddock and the yards is a notebook with headings drawn up for the information you want to keep. Transfer the details as soon as possible, straight onto the cow record cards or computer, taking care to avoid any duplication.

Notebooks used in the paddock and yards can be lost, damaged or fouled up easily. Use a biro, rather than a pencil, to record notebook entries. Pencil entries can become obscure if the notebook gets dirty or wet.

If you do not wish to adopt a cow card system, two other useful records you can keep are a mating group record and a calving book.

Mating group record

This is a group record and not an individual record, although it does allow you to record details on individual cows within the group (see the example below). The main advantage of a mating group record is to check on group fertility (both bull and cows).

If you use cow record cards, then keep mating group records in the notebook. This avoids duplication.

The mating group is a useful herd management record to identify bull fertility problems in both single-sire and multiple-sire joining. It also helps with examining calving spread. Not all the cows joined in each mating group will calve with other cows from that joining group.

Calving book

The calving book (see extract below) allows you to record calving details as cows calve in their calving groups. It is a paddock notebook and the key record required for a software or cow card system.

The layout illustrated is taken from the calving book produced by BREEDPLAN. The format shown is recommended because:

it allows you to record information that is directly transferable to BREEDPLAN; it can be kept as a record in its own right;
records can be transferred onto the computer or the cow record cards.
If the calving book is the only record kept, then you will have all the calves born listed together, along with a record of cows that calved.

Cows that failed to calve need to be recorded also.

Using the calving book
Before calving commences, the cow identification numbers for each calving group should be written down in order.

Daily entries made in the paddock notebook should be transferred to the master sheet or computer that night.
A checklist can be made by listing all calf tag numbers in order, alongside dam numbers. This is done at the back of the calving book when the calves are tagged, e.g. at birth or when cow/calf pairs are mothered-up.
Individual breeding-cow records will allow you to utilise performance information for selection. Often, records will have to be adjusted to make meaningful comparisons between individuals. Remember that comparisons can be made only between animals run together and treated alike.

Records must be relevant to your purpose and must be recorded with ease. Ease of recording is dictated by:

the extensiveness of the property, the stocking rate, and mustering problems;
the herd size in relation to labour available at critical times;
the availability of convenient handling and measuring facilities. 

Beef Cattle Advisory Officers are available to assist beef producers to develop recording programs for their individual herds.

This Agfact is based on an earlier print edition of Agfact A2.8.2 Records for herd improvement, written by Ian Blackwood, District Livestock Officer (Beef Cattle and Horses), NSW Agriculture.


The information contained in this web page is based on knowledge and understanding at the time of writing (8 July 1999). However, because of advances in knowledge, users are reminded of the need to ensure that information upon which they rely is up to date and to check currency of the information with the appropriate officer of New South Wales Department of Agriculture or the user’s independent adviser.

ISSN 0725-7759

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