Being able to identify animals that look the same or similar can be a difficult task to say the least. A good example of animals tough to tell apart from one another are piglets. Further complicating matters is the movement of those animals to and fro, movement that can be so quick that you don't even realize Piglet A and Piglet B have swapped places right under your nose. Depending on the breed, they may have markings that will help you tell one piglet from the next, but that is not always the case, nor is it a reliable way to keep track of piglet identity.
It is important to be able to tell your piglets apart for health management and record keeping purposes. When it comes to things such as medicines that need to be administered or vaccines that need to be or have already been given, it is essential to perform the right tasks on the correct piglet. Because of this, ear notching has become a preferred means of pig identification.
Newborn baby pigs are prime candidates for ear notching, as they will need it for identification purposes from a very young age. Ear notching is done on both ears, with the location and number of notches signifying different things. With good notching practices, it is possible to look at a pig and immediately be able to figure out who that animal is, which is a priceless tool in the management and care of that animal.
The right ear of a pig is used to identify the litter number from which it came. Each pig in the same litter will have the same notch to indicate the littermate connection. In the right ear, there are five locations for ear notching. Each location has a number that corresponds with its location and those numbers are 1, 3, 81, 9, and 27. Since it is possible for pig farmers to have literally hundreds of litters per year, some of the numbers indicated by notching are high, such as 27 and 81. This is because to arrive at the correct litter number, these notch numbers must be added together. If the litter number is higher than the tally a notch in each location can give, dual notches may be applied in all areas except for that of the number 81, which is located at the tip of the ear.
Photo: Triple Stink Farms
For the right ear, notch locations are as follows:
1 is on the bottom of the ear near the head.
3 is on the side of the bottom side of the ear near the tip.
81 is located directly on the tip of the ear.
9 can be found on the top outer half of the ear.
27 is on the top of the ear nearest the head.
The left ear is reserved for indicating the number of the pig in its litter. Each pig in a litter will have a different notch system in their left ear to give them a unique identifier. Left ear notches are for the numbers 1, 3, and 9. Just like in the case of litter number, the notches must be added together for the left ear to get that piglet's number. Multiple notches can be places in numerical areas to indicate the piglet's number, such as two 9's side by side to give you piglet #18.
The notch locations for the left ear are:
1 is on the bottom of the ear near the pig's head.
3 is located on the bottom of the ear away from the pig's head, towards the tip.
9 can be found atop the pig's ear away from the head.
The end result of your ear notching efforts should read as a hyphenated number, such as 26-4 to indicate piglet 4 in litter 26.
Pig 4-4. Photo: Glaciers Ridge
Pig 18-5. Photo: Project Noah
As you enter the process of ear notching, know that it is best done up to 3 days of age and a V-shaped ear notcher should be used. The notch should be 3/16 to 1/4 deep as anything shallower may heal together (if you are notching large pigs, stepping up to a 1/2 inch notcher is wise). Similarly, deep notches are not advisable either as they can result in a tear. Notches should be places at least 1/4 of an inch apart for readability. Always dip notchers in disinfectant between uses and apply wound dressing to ears to aid in healing. Large pigs should be housed separately to prevent other pigs from biting at the fresh notches, which can lead to infection and possibly damage notches.
When it comes time to read the notches on your pigs, this can be done most easily by standing behind the pig. The reason for this is so that the left ear is to your left and the right ear is to your right, making the process less confusing. A good notch job along with proper aftercare will result in readily identifiable pigs, making your life easier when it comes to health and recordkeeping. It is also possible to eradicate cases of mistaken identity through notching, so there is no worry that a pig might be mistaken for someone they are not. Ear notching, when done corrently, has proven to be invaluable in an operation where many pigs are present. Do you notch your pigs? Why or why not?