I make no secret of the fact that I am a vegetarian, and I oppose Confined Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs). Many shoppers simply choose to ignore from where their meat supply comes. Today’s farming operations are no longer your father’s or grandfather’s small, family-owned enterprise, and, with so many thousands of pigs confined crammed into tight quarters, it may seem impossible to track the progress of the little piggies as they are getting ready for the slaughter.

But, given good old ingenuity, it was only a matter of time until a method for tracking was invented. And, here it is: it is called “ear-notching.”

Ear notching is best done on piglets a few days after farrowing, at the same time as trimming teeth and tails and giving iron. The notches must be carefully done so they can be easily read when the pigs get older.

Notches at the base of pigs’ ears need to be cut deeply, otherwise they may grow over in time. If notches are too near the curved base of the ear they could pass around the curve with age, and be overlooked. On the other hand, notches clipped near the tip of the ear should not be too deep otherwise the tip of the ear may droop. This is especially likely to occur if the notches are close together as required in some systems. Shallow notches in this upper section of the ear are easily read. Ear notching should not be done too close to the head along the top of the ear or the ear may droop.

Of course, ear notching isn’t the only infliction that must be done to piglets. Because piglets are confined in close quarters, they tend to bite each others’ tails and ears. To stop the biting and nipping, the tails are cut off and the eye teeth are clipped.

What ever happened to just raising animals without all the cruelty?




12 thoughts on “(H)EAR! (H)EAR! WHAT THE NOTCHES MEAN

  1. Did I miss something here? Back in my 4-H days, half a century ago, ear notching was common practice in identifying our pigs. Very useful method to track growth, breeding, etc. Probably still got a pair of ear notchers somewhere.
    As I remember, it was common practice back then, usually done along with the eye teeth clipping, which I remember as being beneficial to the mother sow, rather than other piglets. Not that I favor CAFO’s. I don’t. Maybe we just remember ‘being down on the farm’ differently.

  2. Mike:

    My great-grandfather was a farmer as was my ex-husband. We never notched ears although we did clip tails and eye-teeth. The number of pigs raised was not in the thousands as is par for the course today. We maybe had a couple of hundred pigs at a time.

    I believe the notching system today is probably somewhat more intricate than from yesteryear. Again, it goes to the thousands of animals kept in confinement. I am not saying that smaller farms may not have used the system. But what I find amazing is the in-depth nature of the system and the number of notches used.

    Just curious, did your notching system use the same number as in the diagrams or was the system less extensive?

    Thanks for calling to my attention back in the old days. That is when I grew up also, and my memories are from my own childhood and adulthood. Perhaps some farmers used the system in Indiana and some didn’t.

  3. The ear notching system hasn’t changed or evolved one bit. Same universal numering system that was developed in the 20s…

  4. I found it interesting since we – when I was married and lived on the farm – never used the ear notching system. Neither did my great-grandfather who farmed during the time period you mentioned. In fact, he maintained as much farming activity as possible right up to the day he died in 1972 at the age of 93.

    Perhaps it was just certain larger farms that used it.

    • well your farm must have been one of very few who did not do this. their teeth and tails are cut off to keep them from pain. we learn in 4-h how to treat animals and go through trianing and i ensure you that we know how to treat animals. thank you for your concern but maybe if you do a little more research on this topic you could understand our point of views.

      • ear notching has gotten so easy in the this generation, there are more equipments to work with and a lot to choose from quick to grasp and it both individual and litter number to the recording system making it useful for future use…

  5. I hate to tell you that your information is inaccurate and would like to know where you found this information to be true. I currently live on a family owned dairy farm and am an aspiring hog farmer. I currently raise only 20 pigs at the time and use this ear notching procedure. The ear notching technique came about way before the time of commercial farms. They were actually first used as a way for farmer to identify there animals from other pigs because they would roam free. Also, you seem to misunderstand the term CAFO. Many CAFO’s are family owned farms. I myself would never build one of these facilities but have visited one. The animals are probably housed better then most people. If farmers abused there animals and did not take care of them there would be no profit. Lets look at it this way if you worked behind a desk all day and your computer did not work properly you would not take a sledge hammer to it because it would cost you money. Furthermore, on the topic of clipping teeth it is actually beneficial to the piglets. The reason is these teeth that are clipped are called jowl teeth, since they are domesticated pigs they have no use for these teeth and they will actually start growing into their jaws if not clipped. Also, when the piglets are still nursing they need to be clipped because they will hurt the mothers teats. I think you need to remember not to complain with your mouth full. Unless you are growing all you own food a farmer produces these product for you whether it be organic or not. If you actually spent time on a farm you would realize that these animals are a farmers lively hood.

  6. Kelly:

    I am going partially from my own experience. As I said, my great gtandfather and my ex-husband were farmers and never used the ear notching system.

    I have news for you, if anyone misunderstands the term CAFO, it is you. I absolutely do not misunderstand the term CAFO. Many CAFOs may be family owned farms, but that doesn’t excuse them. I will bet if you asked the animals and they could talk, they would tell you are dead wrong about their living conditions. They are crammed by the thousands into buildings, shot up with hormones for growth, and injected with antibiotics.

    You apparently have not been reading much lately about CAFOs and the environmental issues they raise.

    And, in case you didn’t catch my first line, I am a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat of any kind, so if I want to complain, I do it with my mouth full of vegetables and not meat. I do raise some of my own items, but I could care less about raising animals to slaughter and eat. And I will continue to fight CAFOs. They are nothing more than meat factories which are dangerous to the environment as well as health hazards. Please do some reading about them so you are informed.

    And, by the way, I have spent quite a few years on the farm. As I stated, my great grandfather was a farmer and so was my ex-husband.

    As to your comment about clipping teeth so they don’t grow into the jaws, isn’t it funny how animals got along fine before humans started coming up with innovative ways to make the human’s life easier? Clipping teeth also keeps the pigs from chewing tails, etc. when they are confined in close quarters – such as CAFOs.

    • these confined quaters you speak of are not cruel. just like sow crates. these sow lay on their piglets easily. these help to prevent this killing from happening. i suggest for you to get a full understanding of this issue by visting swine farm around you . . . most likely you will see much effort and time goes into the protection of animals thank you

  7. My son is doing a presentation on ear notching. Do you know were i would find the history of this and how they came up with the numbers they did. I have googled for days and cannot find the information.

    thank you


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