Cattle Ear - Marks

Cattle Ear Marks of Long Ago

April 1944
By Frank Overton, M. D.

Editor’s Note
 Dr. Overton, author of several books of a scientific nature, and of a number of articles which have appeared in the Forum during the past five years, here presents a subject which will be new to many of our readers.

Cattle Ear - Marks

Pasturing cattle on unoccupied lands, especially the salt-water meadows and town properties, was a common practice throughout Long Island during Colonial days and even as late as 1880. The cattle were driven to the public pasture lands in the Spring, and were taken home in the Fall. During the pasturing months the cattle were left in charge of a keeper who watched over them and received a fee for his services. He rounded up the strays and rescued those which were mired in the marsh or were injured. During severe storms or extremely high water he herded them into enclosures, and gathered in the strays. He also kept the watering holes clean and accessible.

Each owner identified his cattle by means of ear-marks which had the same legal significance as the brands on the flanks of cattle on the Western prairies. These ear-marks were registered in the offices of the town clerks as evidence of private ownership.

The earliest ear-marks in Brookhaven Town were recorded about the year 1700 by a written description only. The first two entries are contained in Book C at the bottom of page 4 in a single paragraph as follows:

 Andrew Miller Juniors Eare marke is a cropp of both eares the near ear being splitt down part of the way and the forepart taken off like unto a latchmark with a half penny under the off eare May the 2nd 1699. Selah Strong his eare marke is a slitt crost the undersyde of the right eare. April the 18th, 1708.

 From this vague method of recording the ear-marks by descriptive words only, there was soon evolved a simple form of accurate record by means of a combination of technical terms and a dia­gram. By this method, Andrew Miller’s ear-mark would have been recorded as follows:

A crop-latch of both ears and a half-penny on the under side of the right ear (as in top left form).

Selah Strong’s ear-mark would have been diagrammed as shown by top center form.

The forms of record of the ear-marks which were officially recorded in the town clerk’s office in Brookhaven Town consisted of four elements:

1. A basic diagram indicating the two ears (see top right form). The terms left and right were always from a rear view.

2. The particular mark cut in the ear for each element of the identification.

3. The position in which the mark was placed on the ear.

4. A concise description of the completed diagram, written in technical language.

In the town clerk’s office of Brookhaven Town, each ear­mark was recorded by means of a written description, and also by a diagram. In some of the smaller towns, only the diagram was recorded.

The fundamental ear-marks which were placed on the basic diagram were nine in number, as follows:

1. A Crop—The end of the ear was cut off squarely.

2. A Latch—A right-angle piece was cut out from the end of the ear.

3. A Crop-Latch — Num­bers one and two combined into a single unit.

4. A Slope—The end of the ear trimmed with a slanting cut, in distinction, which is square.

5. A Slit—A short straight cut into the end or side of the ear

 6. A Penny—A round hole punched through the ear.

7. A Half-Penny—A half circle punched on the edge of the ear.

8. A Wedge — An acute angle cut out of the end of the ear.

9. A Fleur-de-lis—A crude imitation of a lily or tree. It was seldom used, for it was hard either to make or recognize.

These nine elements of identification were recorded in the basic diagrams of the two ears as shown in three lower forms.

Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8 may be placed at the outer end of either ear, or both ears.

Numbers, 2, 4 and 7 may be placed on either the upper side or the lower side of either ear or both ears:

Number 5 may be placed on the end or the top edge or the lower edge of either ear, or two slits may be made side by side.

This system made possible thousands of combinations

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