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Chapter 2 - Identification

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2.1 Identification of livestock (updated January 2017)

This section describes the general identification procedures for livestock, official Identification, and record keeping.


1. Livestock identification is a cornerstone on which the National Animal Health Program is based. The ability to accurately identify and trace the movement of livestock cannot be overstated. It is essential to maintaining and ensuring a healthy livestock population.

2. Accredited veterinarians are an integral part of this process. Accredited veterinarians may mark or cause an animal to be marked with a tag or in other such manner as the Minister may direct so as to identify the animal. This would include, but is not limited to, livestock inspected or tested for export, disease eradication programs, or herd certification programs. The accredited veterinarian must carefully record the identity of animal(s) they inspect or test in the course of performing their official duties and functions. Records of animals identified are the only means of tracing diseased animals to the location where they were identified. The following information should be recorded:

  1. species
  2. breed
  3. sex
  4. age
  5. tags, tattoos, leg bands, brands or electronic implants
  6. colour or markings
  7. registration numbers (if purebreds)

3. In the case of purebred animals, the information on the registration/pedigree certificates must be verified for animals being identified as purebred on a health certificate or test chart.

Official identification

4. Three official animal identification systems have been approved by the CFIA:

  1. Tags or indicators approved (or considered equivalent) under the Livestock Identification and Traceability (TRACE) program;
  2. Health of Animals (HofA) ear tag for species not covered by mandatory national identification requirements;
  3. legible registered tattoos.

Species with national mandatory identification requirements (bovine, bison, ovine and porcine) which are tested or inspected for export or entry into a semen collection centre must be identified with an ear tag or other indicator approved under the TRACE program. Approved tags will bear the trade mark of a responsible administrator: Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) or Canadian Pork Council (CPC). Approved tags delivered by Agri-traçabilité Québec (ATQ) will bear a fleur-de-lis marking as well.

Foreign animal indicators deemed equivalent by the CFIA to indicators approved under the Canadian livestock identification and traceability program are considered to be approved under the Health of Animals Regulations.

The following species are not subject to national mandatory identification requirements for the moment: caprine, equine, cervids, camelidae and avian. Those species may be identified by their description (equine), microchips (camelidae, equine, avian), leg or wing bands (avian), HofA (caprine) or registered tattoo for domestic purposes.

Reference to specific export identification requirements may be contained on the export certificate for the species being exported. Consult with the district veterinarian for details.

HofA ear tags

5. When "HofA" ear tags are used, they must be inserted in an animal's left ear. These tags come in two sizes. The larger one is used to identify cattle, elk and bison. The smaller one is used to identify sheep, goats, pigs, and deer.

  1. Ensure that the proper size is used.
  2. Ear tags are available to accredited veterinarians through CFIA district offices.
  3. Ear tags should be placed in the proximal third of the anterior border of the animal's ear. The alpha-numeric sequence must face "out." That is, the number should appear on the dorsal surface of the ear. When inserting an ear tag, always leave a small space between the edge of the ear and the outer margins of the tag. The district veterinarian will demonstrate the proper technique if clarification is required.


6. Exceptions: a "HofA" ear tag should not be applied:

  1. on species covered by national mandatory identification requirements, unless the test or inspection is done for disease control or herd certification purpose with no intended movement out of the farm of the origin (please verify if other provincial identification requirements apply in these situations before using a HofA tag).
  2. if an animal bears a legible tattoo, in accordance with a recognized registered breed association, if this method is acceptable for the purpose of identification (could be acceptable for the CHAH herd program, but not for export to some countries).
  3. if an animal bears a HofA ear tag or an ear tag or indicator approved under the TRACE program, which may compromise the ability to trace the animal.
  4. to identify horses. Horses are to be identified by describing the animal, diagram, freeze brand or lip tattoo (see 2.2 Identification of Horses).

Record keeping and administration

7. "HofA" ear tags are identified in alpha-numeric sequence and are distributed by the CFIA in boxes containing 100 tags. The tag numbers issued to each accredited veterinarian are recorded in an ear tag registry maintained at the district office.

8. Accredited veterinarians must maintain a record of the ear tags issued to them, including where and when they were used. These records are to be maintained for a minimum of 10 years. As previously mentioned, records of animals identified are the only means of tracing diseased animals to the location where they were tagged. It is imperative, therefore, that orderly records of animal identification be maintained in a safe location.

9. Accredited veterinarians may return the unused tags to the district office if they do not expect to use them anymore in the future. The return of these tags must be indicated in the record.

10. Tags approved under the TRACE program are issued and records are maintained by responsible administrators. For more information: Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, Agri-Traçabilité Québec or Canadian Pork Council

2.2 Identification of horses (updated October 2016)

This section discusses the physical description of horses as official identification tags are not used. Clear, uniform, and accurate descriptions of their physical attributes are required.

Horse identification

Electronic chip implants

1. While implants are frequently used in many species of animals, the usefulness of this means of identification is limited to those applications where the animal is accessible for a reading to be conducted and a chip reading device is available. For those reasons more traditional means of animal identification are currently in use at ports of entry into Canada. Electronic ID does have usefulness in domestic applications, particularly when combined with some other form of identification in horses.

Drawings and digital photographs

2. Documents identifying a horse for test or for export certification require an accurate drawing of the horse, and an accurate description. In addition to brands or tattoos that the horse may bear, look for and identify unique distinguishing marks such as hair patterns or scars. Descriptive nomenclature for colouring and markings has been produced by the International Equestrian Federation, and is included on the following pages (see original document Identification of Horses with the narrative and the diagram - PDF [2,430 kb]).

3. If a CFIA-approved electronic equine infectious anemia (EIA) certification system is used to submit samples to a CFIA-approved laboratory, digital photographs of the animal (left side, front and right side) can be used in place of drawings. Lighting conditions, image resolution, proper positioning of the horse and the absence of objects that could obstruct the animal (e.g. saddle, blanket, structures) must be considered when taking digital photographs. The quality of digital photographs should allow precise identification of the horse by inspectors. Failure to produce good quality photographs may result in the electronic EIA test certificate being rejected by an inspector.

All white markings need to be visible on digital photographs, and the full length of all appendages needs to appear in the photographs. For frontal photographs, if the only markings are on the head, the photograph can be limited to the head; if there are white markings on the front legs, the full length of the legs must be included in the photographs. All descriptor fields are required to be filled. Please use "N/A" or "None" if appropriate. If an electronic submission system is used for equines with very detailed markings (e.g. Appaloosas), written descriptions of the white markings are not required and "N/A" can be used in the descriptor fields.

4. Additional numbered ID may be required under certain circumstances. Drawings or digital photographs on test and export certificates must match, and the written descriptions must agree with drawings and digital photographs. See 5.6 Export to the United States-Horses and 6.2 Export to Mexico-Horses for more detail.


5. The height of a horse is normally recorded in "hands," measured at the top of the withers. One hand equals four inches.



When black pigment is general throughout the coat, limbs, mane and tail, with no pattern factor present other than white markings.


When there is a mixture of black and brown pigment in the coat, with black limbs, mane and tail.


When the predominate colour is brown, with muzzle bay, black limbs, mane and tail.


Bay varies considerably in shade from dull red approaching brown, to a yellowish colour approaching chestnut, but it can be distinguished from the chestnut by the fact that the bay has a black mane and tail and almost invariably has black on the limbs and tips of the ears.


This colour consists of yellow-coloured hair in different degrees of intensity, which may be noted if thought desirable. A "true" chestnut has a chestnut mane and tail which may be lighter or darker than the body colour. Lighter coloured chestnut may have flaxen mane and tail. The sorrel colour must be reported under that name.


When the body coat is a varying mosaic of black and white hair, with black skin. With advancing age, the coat grows lighter in colour. The flea-bitten grey may contain three colours or the two basic colours and should be so described. A pure white is exceptional.


This description is sometimes used for a grey horse with black mane and tail.

Blue roan:

When the body colour is black or black-brown, with a mixture of white hair, which gives a blue tinge to the coat. On the limbs from the knees and hocks down, the black hair usually predominates.

Bay roan:

When the body colour is bay or bay-brown, with an admixture of white hair, which gives a reddish tinge to the coat. On the limbs from the knees and hocks down the black hairs usually predominate.

Strawberry/ Chestnut Roan:

When the body colour is chestnut with an admixture of white hairs.

Blue dun:

The body colour is a dilute black evenly distributed. The mane and tail are black. There may or may not be a dorsal band (list) and/or withers stripe. The skin is black.

Yellow dun:

There is a diffuse yellow pigment in the hair. The mane and tail are black. There may or may not be a dorsal band (list) and/or withers stripe and bars on the legs. The striping is usually associated with black pigment on the head and limbs. The skin is black.


The body coat consists of large irregular patches of black and white. The line of demarcation between the two colours is generally well defined.


The body consists of large irregular patches of white and of any definite colour except black. The line of demarcation between the colours is generally well-defined.

Odd coloured:

The body coat consists of large irregular patches of more than two colours, which may merge into each other at the edges of the patches.


The body coat is of a cream colour, with black mane and tail.


The body coat is of a cream colour, with nonpigmented skin. The iris is deficient in pigment and is often devoid of it, giving the eye a pinkish or bluish appearance.


The body coat is a newly-minted gold coin colour (lighter or darker shades are permissible) with a white mane and tail.


Body colour is grey, covered with a mosaic of black or brown spots.

Unique markings

Withers stripe:

Zebra band across the withers.


A dorsal band of black hair which extends from the withers backwards to the base of the tail.

White marks

The characteristics of all white marks must be described:

A white mark can be regular or irregular. It can be mixed with the hair of the coat, completely or in part, or at the edge. It can be bordered, a band of black skin shows under the white hair at the edge of the mark (the area appears bluish).


The description should begin at the forehead, followed by the nasal bone, the muzzle, lips and chin.


Any white mark on the forehead. Size, shape, intensity, position and coloured markings (if any) on the white to be specified. Should the markings in the region of the centre of the forehead consist of a few white hairs only, it should be so described and not referred to as a star.


The narrow white marking down the face not wider than the flat anterior surface of the nasal bones. In many cases, the star and stripe are continuous and should be described as star and stripe connected. When the stripe is separate and distinct from the star it should be described as interrupted stripe. When no star is present the point of origin of the stripe should be indicated. The termination of the stripe and any variation in breadth, direction and any markings on the white should be so stated, e.g. broad stripe, narrow stripe, inclined to left, etc. Any markings on the white should be stated.


A white marking covering almost the whole of the forehead between the eyes and extending beyond the width of the nasal bones and usually to the muzzle. Any variations in direction, termination and any markings on the white should be stated.

White face:

When the white covers the forehead and front of the face, extending laterally towards the mouth. The extension may be unilateral or bilateral, in which case it should be described accordingly.


An isolated white marking, independent of those already named, and situated between or in the region of the nostrils. Its size, position and intensity should be specified. When a snip is connected with a stripe it should be recorded as such, e.g. star, stripe connected snip.

Flesh mark:

Lack of pigmentation. A flesh mark is described as such and not as a white mark. Black spots within the flesh mark are to be indicated. All lip markings, whether flesh marks or white marks, should be accurately described.

White muzzle:

When the white embraces both lips and extends to the region of the nostrils.


All white markings on the limbs must be accurately defined and the upper limit precisely stated with reference to points of the anatomy, e.g. white to mid-pastern, white to upper third of cannon. The use of such terms as "sock" or "stocking" are not acceptable. The exact location must be specified, examples are listed below:


The presence of coloured spots in white marks should be recorded. Black spots in a white coronet are referred to as ermine marks.


Whorls or cowlicks are changes in the hair pattern, and may take various forms simple, tufted, feathered or sinuous. Their position must be clearly specified.

Illustrations of markings

horse heads - markings

horse legs - markings

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