There are many reasons why it is important to be able to identify farm animals, horses and small companion animals. Unique identification marks are essential for ensuring the correctness of breeding programmes, for preventing the spread of disease and for eliminating the possibility of deceit in competitions or when animals are sold. The traditional method of marking larger farm animals relies on branding with hot irons or on ear-tagging but this is deemed inappropriate for use on dogs and cats, which are identified by the implant of a microchip transponder. Until recently, horses were generally branded but following concerns that the practice is unnecessarily cruel there has been a gradual switch towards the use of microchips. Branding has essentially been discontinued in the European Union, although several countries still accept it and breed registries claim that this traditional method is perfectly satisfactory and obviates the need for costly equipment.
Comparisons between the two methods for marking horses have focused on how they are perceived by the animals: does either method cause more stress or more harm to the horse? Surprisingly, however, no attention has been paid to the other side of the coin. There is no doubt that microchips can be unambiguously decoded, providing the necessary equipment is available, but how well can brand marks be read? The issue has now been examined by Jrg and Christine Aurich of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.
Brands on horses generally combine a symbol to indicate the particular breed with a two-digit number to identify the individual animal. To assess the readability of the markings, the researchers asked three experienced people to record the brands of about 250 horses participating in an equestrian tournament in Germany. All three testers were able to recognize the breed symbols on about 90% of the animals and for about 84% of the animals the symbol was recorded correctly by a
|Contact: Prof. Joerg Aurich |
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna