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The Importance of Large Animal Identification - Traceability and Emergency Preparedness

Animal identification and traceability systems are crucial components in the management of livestock and equine populations. These systems not only facilitate the verification of ownership and biosecurity control but also enhance the ability to track animals for agricultural, research and emergency management purposes. In regions like Alberta where livestock and equine industries are significant, robust identification and traceability mechanisms are essential for maintaining the health of these populations and the safety of the food supply chain.

A Note On PID

Alberta’s Premises Identification (PID) Program is a system that links livestock, poultry, and horses to land locations (or premises), allowing for efficient location of animals and notification of owners in case of emergencies. In Alberta, if you own a livestock animal, or horses, and it is kept at a premises other than a commingling site, you need to apply for a PID Account and obtain at least one PID Number associated with the location of the animal. These records are vital for determining which animals are at risk in case of disease outbreaks or other emergencies.

Livestock Identification

In Alberta, the traceability of livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats is managed through systems like the Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS). Livestock are typically identified using ear tags that are applied at birth or upon ownership transfer. These tags are either visual or electronic, and they contain unique identifiers that link back to a central database. These systems allow for the quick location of an animal’s origin and its movement history.

You can find species specific traceability information on

Equine Identification Technologies

For horses, identification can be achieved through various methods including descriptive identification including unique features, colour, markings and whorls, microchips, tattoos and brands.

Microchipping is becoming one of the most prevalent methods for identifying horses. This involves implanting a small chip under the horse's skin which can be scanned to retrieve the owner's contact information and the horse's medical history.

In Alberta, the traceability of horses is becoming increasingly important, especially with the growing concern over diseases such as Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). Horse owners are encouraged to choose a method of identification and where possible register them on a licensed registry. This can significantly aid in recovery and management during outbreaks or other health emergencies

Emergency Situations and the Role of Identification

In emergency situations, such as natural disasters or disease outbreaks, the ability to quickly and accurately identify and locate animals is paramount. Proper identification helps in the effective evacuation, treatment, and return of animals to their rightful owners. For instance, during a wildfire or flood, animals with clear identification can be more easily accounted for and managed, reducing the risk of loss or incorrect relocation.

The Traceability program managed by Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation is more than a regulatory requirement; it's a critical component of emergency preparedness for farm animals and livestock. By participating in this program, animal owners not only affirm their commitment to the welfare of their animals but also enhance the overall resilience of the agricultural sector against emergencies.

Consult the following AAHS resources to learn more about preparing your animals for emergencies:

Conclusion: A Call to Action for Large Animal Owners

The implementation of effective animal identification and traceability systems is a critical aspect of livestock and equine management in Alberta. These systems not only support the health and productivity of the animals but also enhance the safety and security of the entire agricultural sector. By ensuring that each animal is uniquely and permanently identified, and by maintaining accurate records of these identifications, producers and animal owners can better manage their herds and flocks, respond more effectively to health emergencies, and ensure the overall resilience of their operations in the face of challenges.

Sources and Further Reading