Hog Tattooing Made Easy

Pigs at a farm playing in a trough

Whether destined for market or bred to live on the farm, it is important—and in most areas legally required—that livestock be clearly identified. Livestock identification can take several forms, including tagging, tattooing, electronic implants, high-tech transponders, or a combination of these methods. However, when it comes to hogs, one of the most common methods used is tattooing, as it is less costly than branding, damages the animal’s skin less, and is less painful and stressful to the animal.

Hog with ear tattoo and ear tag
Hog with Ear Tag and Tattoo

Simply put, tattooing is a technique for placing a permanent mark on the animal, usually in an easily reached but unobtrusive location on the animal, such as inside the ear or on the shoulder. Like a brand, a properly done tattoo is legible, distinctive, and permanent. You do not want a tattoo that is blurry or fades over time! So it is important to use high-quality hog tattooing tools and supplies, such as are available at Ketchum Manufacturing, Inc.


Typically, for pigs on the farm, the preferred tattooing site is on the ear; whereas for pigs destined for slaughter the tattoo usually goes on the shoulder. Depending on whether the tattoo is to be applied to the pig’s ear or on its shoulder, the tools needed and tattooing procedures are slightly different. For ear-tattooing, a special kind of plier is used which clamps down and pierces through the ear. For “slap marking” on the shoulder, a kind of hammer called a “slapper” is used.

Plier for hog ear-tattooing
Plier for hog ear-tattooing
Hog tattoo shoulder slapper
Hog tattoo shoulder slapper

In both cases, non-toxic tattoo ink is embedded under the skin. For optimum legibility, green tattoo ink is usually best for the ears or for animals with darkly pigmented skin. Otherwise, black tattoo ink is normally preferred. The sharp, nickel-plated steel needles that pierce the animal’s skin are arranged in a letter or number pattern on dies that can easily be inserted into and removed from the plier or slapper. These dies come in several sizes:

  • 8mm (5/16″) for piglets 3 to 21 days old
  • 10mm (3/8″) for pigs weighing from 20 to 200 lbs.
  • 16mm (5/8″) for large sows and general slap marking

The respective procedures for hog ear tattooing and slap marking are as follows.

Hog Ear Tattooing Procedure

In the illustrative video below, green tattoo paste is being applied to the ears of the pigs. A backing pad can be seen on the tattoo plier; this will help remove the tattoo characters from the ear after crimping. To prevent possible infection, it is important to clean the area to be tattooed and make sure it is free of dirt and debris.

The tattoo needle should be on the same side as the ink and in the desired location of the tattoo. Quickly and firmly squeeze the tattoo plier. Ensure that all of the needles have penetrated the skin. Release the plier by removing any pressure from the handles. Gently rub the ink in from the ear into the holes left by the tattoo plier. The skin will heal over the pierced areas, leaving a permanent and lifelong tattoo.

Hog Shoulder Slapping Procedure

This video demonstrates the proper placement and technique for tattooing market pigs with black ink using a shoulder slapper. When dabbing the tattooer in the inking box, make sure that all of the needles have a healthy coating of ink before tattooing the animal.

The front shoulder is the ideal location for a tattoo, as it will be conveniently read as the animal is being processed at the packing facility. A vertical placement of the tattoo will result in a parallel mark when the tattoo is being read at the abattoir.

As you can see, a full swing is not necessary to provide a high-quality tattoo. The weight of the hammer swinging in a downward motion allows the needles to penetrate the skin easily, leaving a clean and easy-to-read tattoo. A round or bumpy surface will result in a tattoo where not all the characters will show. For that reason, a flat surface is preferred in order to have all the tattoo pins pierce the skin evenly.

Be sure to stock up on all your hog tattooing equipment & supplies at Ketchum Mfg. Co.

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