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Registering & Tattooing Kids

An Important Partof Good Goat Herd Management

By Noah Goddard

This picture shows the equipment and supplies needed for the tattooing process.
Photo by Noah Goddard; www.goddardfarm.com.

Once the excitement of kidding season settles, it is time to get down to business and register and tattoo kids in the dairy goat herd. Most dairy goat herd owners like to keep track of pedigrees and bloodlines so they can work on planned breeding matches and herd or individual goat improvement in chosen areas of confirmation or production. There are several official organizations that facilitate registration of pedigrees for the many different recognized breeds of dairy goats. An advantage of doing this is the ability to plug into the computer a registered name and number of a particular dairy goat and is able to bring up 10 generations of bloodline information, DHIR milk records, and other production or linear information. The main registry we work with at Goddard Farm Nubians, near Leavenworth, Kansas is the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA). So my advice is formulated for work with that registry, though there may be others that work well for other herds.

In order to register a goat, the dairy goat owner must fill out an application that lists sire and dam information of the kid, date of birth, breed specification and color, breeder and owner status, and a tattoo sequence. In order to qualify for registration, a goat must have an assigned tattoo sequence. On request, ADGA will assign a tattoo sequence that belongs to each herd. Every goat to be registered must have accompanying tattoos. For example, the tattoo sequence assigned to our herd many years ago is NSG. That is called the herd tattoo and must be placed in the right ear of each kid born on our farm. This means that every dairy goat ever born on our Goddard Farm carries this tattoo, and can be traced and verified as such.

The right and left ears are determined by standing behind the kid and looking forward, down along the kid’s topline to the ears. This is important. Tattoos placed in the wrong ears are not considered correct in the event they are ever checked at a show for Grand Champion status or simply for verification on a veterinarian certificate for travel. An individual tattoo is placed in the left ear. The ADGA-designated individual herd tattoo letter for 2012 is "C."

Every year, a different letter is selected for the official tattoo sequence. They are selected and assigned in alphabetical order, but sometimes certain letters are skipped because they look too much like other letters already in use. The individual numbers that go along with the assigned letter tattoo for each year are chronological beginning with the first kid born as of the first of each year. The first-born kid in 2012 on a registered farm will have the tattoo of C 1, the second kid will be C 2, and the third kid will be C 3, and so on to infinity. Sometimes in multiple births, it could be difficult to determine which kid was first, second, third, or even fourth, but it is up to the integrity of each herd owner to make that determination and register and tattoo kids accordingly. ??

We try to tattoo kids by the end of the first week of age before the blood veins in their ears get too big. Punctured blood veins will wash out the tattoo ink. I know that it is recommended that kids be tattooed near the middle of the ear. We have better luck missing the cartilage and blood veins by tattooing farther out toward the end of the ear. We also have better luck with the roll-on liquid green ink.

There are several types and colors of tattoo ink available to use for this project, including roll-on, tube paste, or inkwell style. Colors could be black, white, or green. We prefer the green roll-on and feel it has the longest life span, as well as working the best for the job. We wear disposable exam gloves to keep the ink off of our hands. We also use two people for tattooing—one to hold the kid completely still while the other person concentrates on correct tattoo placement. Some people use a tattoo holding box and put the kid inside this apparatus with the head sticking out the end. Others prefer to hold the kid on their lap, close to their body, to prevent wiggling or escape, while others manage to do it while the animal is secured in a milk stand. Whatever works best in your situation is the best method to choose.

Realistically, I recommend that two tattoo guns be prepared for the job. That way two sets of letters and numbers can be organized, with one gun or pliers used to hold the herd sequence, and the other just for the letter-year combination sequences. I also highly recommend the spring-loaded gun so that the tattoo needles will be automatically lifted out of the flesh when the pliers are released. As I said earlier, we have one tattoo gun dedicated to our herd tattoo sequence for the right ear, and never have to change the letters. The second gun is for the left ear tattoos and the only one that requires changes from goat-to-goat.

Even with two tattoo guns it is till easy to make mistakes. We use a black felt tip marker to write each kid’s name and tattoo number down on a separate 3×5 card, and when the tattoo gun is loaded and ready to tattoo the kid, we first punch that kid’s 3×5 card to make absolutely sure that the gun is loaded correctly, before punching the kid’s ear. I also recommend that the tattoo gun be held facing the kid, with the handle of the pliers in the "down" position, to make sure the tattoos are placed in the right-side-up position. ??

The ADGA tattoo policy (Tattooing Your Goat, Article VII, Tattoo Policy) can be found on page 30 of the 2011 ADGA Guidebook. Additional detailed tattooing directions can be found on pages 139 through 141 of the 2011 ADGA Guidebook. The only instructions that I seriously disagree with, and I don’t understand why it continues to appear in the ADGA Guidebook, is the statement at the bottom of page 140 that recommends using an old toothbrush to work ink into the tattooed area. Toothbrushes are abrasive, that’s why they are used to brush teeth. Using a toothbrush will destroy a new tattoo and do nothing to work in the ink, in fact, just the opposite is true! I use my gloved finger for that purpose. ??

For the new goat breeder, the tattooing experience may seem a bit daunting. It looks like those little metal needles arraigned in the shape of prescribed letters would cause pain for the baby goat. Though they may cry out a bit, the pain goes away very quickly and the result is a life-long security of knowing this goat will always be able to be identified as coming from this herd of origin. I imagine it doesn’t hurt them any more than being bit on the ear by another goat or stung by a bee. I do know it is much easier to tattoo a young goat than a larger, stronger one. Either way, tattooing is a safe way to ensure the legacy of herd identification and registration for years to come.

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