When the news first broke in 1995 that new EU legislation was in the pipeline, we decided to carry out extensive field trials to prove tattooing is the most effective and cost-efficient way to ensure traceability from birth to slaughter, and to establish precisely what were its practical limitations.
These trials involved evaluating the effectiveness of physical marking by ear and body skin tattoos.
We already knew that ear tattoos would work on week-old pigs, but such marks are difficult to read and the need to look in the ear renders this method unsuitable for slaughterhouse use.
To determine the limitations of slap-marking, very young weaners were marked with an eight-character stamp using permanent ink and batch trials of pigs up to bacon weight were tattooed, as well as gilts and fully grown sows.
What we discovered was that a weaner’s body is so efficient that it cleans most traces of even permanent ink from the skin, although not from cartilage.
Results showed however, that from 10 weeks it is possible and acceptable to slap-mark on the shoulder and expect permanent ink legibility at slaughter weight.
Id & Trace slap markers are particularly suitable for animals as young as 10 weeks, as they guarantee good pin-to-skin transmission of tattoo paste with minimal stress to the pig. They do this by virtue of their light handles and sharp, narrow section steel character-plate pins.
Character size used at 10 weeks was 10mm in height, and this was found to have grown to a character height of 15mm by slaughter weight, while still being perfectly legible. Usefully, this also conformed to existing requests by MLC inspectors to improve legibility.
At the same time as conducting its own UK trials, we were also asked to supply tattooing equipment to DANI and MAFF for them to carry out their own testing, proving that the equipment surpassed expectations.
After these trials, we concluded that, provided characters are fairly condensed, two rows of five characters is possible, while maintaining legibility from 10 weeks to the point of slaughter.
And because Id & Trace slap markers are smaller in area than old-fashioned markers, they ensure better transmission to the skin, irrespective of the inward or outward curvature of the pig’s body.
With the leanness of today’s animals, you need only look in the chiller at any abattoir for evidence of the ineffectiveness of old-fashioned markers.
Choice of ink is also an important factor, and through extensive live animal trials, we have developed a totally synthetic slapper tattoo paste, conforming to current food legislation. As soon as an animal becomes meat, the ink used to mark the carcass must conform to current hygiene regulations.
Because of our reputation in the UK, we were also asked to develop similar equipment for use on the heavier animals in the USA. These trials proved to be a great success.
That reputation has been well earned during our 30 years in the industry. Prior to our revolutionary slap marker designs, equipment was too bulky to control properly and too brutal for the leaner pigs the industry is now being called upon to produce.
There was a need for a light, durable slapper tattoo, which would be easy to use, which would not fall apart when subjected to everyday use and the occasional misuse, ensured long-term legibility of the mark and yet cause minimal stress to the animal.
Slap marking is an onerous, but very necessary task, especially when payment and disease control are considered. Speed of marking, operator comfort and animal distress levels must all be optimized, such that the stockman is still able to use the instrument as effectively on the 200th pig as the first.
Key areas were identified that had to be addressed if the task were to be efficiently carried out:
Id & Trace has put together a collection of equipment that fulfills these requirements. Tattoo plates have a large border to increase protection for the tattoo needles, which are parallel-section, tempered steel for durability.
There are also no practical limitations on the possible pin configurations on plates, with company logos, trade marks or foreign characters all being possible.
Id & Trace has proven beyond contention that physical marking is viable as a low cost and particularly effective means of identification. Its carcass identification equipment, used in conjunction with its live – animal tattoos, provides proven traceability from farm of origin to the packing plant.