There are several ear notch numbering systems but we use the one that has always been used by the LBH’s. The notches all look the same (a V) but the position of the notches is what determines the number it represents. This is best shown in an illustration but it may help if I also explain.
Look at a pig’s ear and imagine it has a line drawn half way between where the ear begins at the head and the tip of the ear. Some notches must be placed inside that imaginary line (near the head) and some notches must be placed toward the outside of the line (toward the tip). In addition, the notches will be placed either on the bottom of the ear or on top of the ear. The position of the notch can represent the number 1, the number 3, or the number 9. There are actually larger numbers but for now, these 3 numbers should serve you well.
The number one is represented by one notch on the bottom of the ear toward the inside (near the head). This one can be a bit tricky because the ear forms a crease as it comes out of the head and then folds over. You want to stay to the inside of the imaginary dividing line but not so close to the head that it is hidden in the fold. The number 2 is represented by two notches (notch 1 + notch 1 makes 2) on the bottom of the ear on the inside (near the head). So, if you see an ear with two notches close together on the bottom of the ear near the head, that is number 2. You want the notches close but not so close they grow into one big notch. Be sure and leave some ear between the two but you don’t want a big gap either.
For the number 3, we place the notch on the bottom side like number one but this time we move it out toward the tip of the ear. Do not remove the tip but make sure the notch is to the outside of the imaginary line. When you look at an ear with one notch near the tip, that is a number 3 even though you only have one notch. It is the placement of the notch that makes it a number 3 instead of the number 1. If you were to put two notches close together on the outside, you would have the number 6 because we add the two notches together, just like we added the two notches near the head to make the number 2.
Well, what if we need the number 4 or 5? We use a combination of the number 1 notch and the number 3 notch to add up to 4 or 5. For example, the number 4 would have one notch out toward the tip (3) and one notch near the head (1) and those two notches added together would equal 4, even though there are only two notches. That’s why it is so important to put the notches at one end or the other because if you place them in the middle, you won’t know if it represents a one or a three. For the number 5 you will have one notch toward the tip (3) and two notches close together next to the head for 2 (1+1).
Now you should be seeing a pattern. We never use more than 2 notches close together. Instead of using 3 or more notches close together, we move to a different position to represent a higher number. Six would equal two notches near the tip, seven would equal two notches near the tip and one near the head, and eight would equal two near the tip and two near the head (3+3+1+1).
For the number 9, we move to the top of the ear and place one notch toward the tip on top. To form numbers greater than 9, we use a combination of notches on top of the ear and on the bottom of the ear and add them up. The number 10 would be formed with two notches. Can you figure out where they would be? One notch on the top of the ear near the tip (but don’t remove the tip) and one notch on bottom close to the head. For number 11 we have the #9 notch on top and two #1 notches on bottom and so on until you reach the number 27 and that is a notch on top near the head but it will be years probably before you reach number 27.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s a downloadable picture of Large Black pig ears with notches. (Link under construction)
Remember, the right ear contains the litter number. You will start with litter number 1 and add litter numbers each time you have a litter you are going to register. Let’s say you have 2 LBH gilts that farrow in March. This is your first litter so it is litter #1. When the second gilt farrows, you will name that litter #2. When fall rolls around and they each farrow again, you will have litter number 3 and 4 and you just continue counting as long as you raise hogs. This litter number will go on your registration papers even if you don’t notch ears. If you use tags instead, you will need to make a note on the application the tag number for this particular pig. Someone may later notch the pig’s ears with this number if the tag falls off.
The left ear is the pig number. We typically start numbering the females and follow with the males. You will not be able to keep up with which pig was actually born first and it really doesn’t matter. You just need to be sure and notch the whole litter before they are allowed to run with piglets of another litter because once you mix them, you will never be able to sort them out again.
LBH’s have tiny ears when they are born so we like to wait until they are at least a few weeks old before we notch them. If you have not already done so, please have them notched by 6 weeks. After that, they get harder to hold and handle while “working” your pigs. We find it efficient to notch, worm, and vaccinate all at the same time. We do not cut needle teeth or tails and have never found a need for that. We have had a few tails freeze off in bad weather but they heal quickly and do not seem to cause a problem.
Large Blacks are extremely docile and if handled often and gently, they will become big pets. Don’t let that fool you. Nature has preserved the pigs for thousands of years by instilling the herd and mother’s with a protective instinct. When a pig feels threatened (such as picking them up) they will squeal and the whole herd will be stirred into action. Your big pet may feel the need to bite you or push you over in order to save the pig. Safety should always come first no matter how tame you think your pigs are. If you can lure the mother away from the litter with feed and then close the gate, that would be best. You can also buy a light weight guard designed as a shield to hold between you and the hog. Hogs are extremely intelligent and they will not soon forget rough treatment if you try to keep them at bay with sticks or such violence. As a last resort, drop the pig and get out of the way before you get hurt.
We find it helpful to carry the pigs in a box rather than carry them in our arms. As long as you are holding a pig, they will squeal. Once you drop them in a box, they typically shut up and the herd calms down. To catch a young pig, try grabbing them by the hind leg and holding them upside down. They actually squeal less than when you hold them in your arms like a football. Once you have the young pig away from the herd, it helps to have one person hold them and the other person notch. Simply wipe the ear with a disinfectant like iodine and then place the notcher and squeeze it fast and hard. It should make a clean break and yes the ear will bleed but it will soon seal over without a problem. If you are concerned, you can find powders at your feed store designed to stop the bleeding.
Once you get used to reading notches, you can identify your breeding animals and mark it in your records when each sow has her litters. Notch the piglets before turning multiple litters out together and you should have no problem identifying individuals. If you happen to buy a new pig/hog that has the same ear notch as an animal you currently have, you will need to add some additional form of identification. Since we have many new breeders, we will see a lot of pigs marked with litter numbers one through 5. You can try adding a tag to the new pig. Even if it falls off, you will have a hole in the middle of the ear that the other pig does not have. If you don’t want to add a tag, then punch a hole in the middle of the ear anyway, just some way to distinguish between the two.
We feel that all pigs should be notched but all pigs do not need to be registered. Only the very best should be kept for the breeding pool but you can’t tell which are best until they get some age. Select the pigs that are to be kept for pork and notate in your records which pig numbers were not registered. You may have a litter that you notch pig number one through 11 but when they are weaned, you only want to register 6. List all pigs on the litter registration so the sows fertility can be documented and then just put “N/A” in the space for the pigs you do not want registered. For example, you will have all 11 pigs listed but you may only register pig number 4/2, 4/3, 4/6, 4/8, 4/10, 4/11 (of course assuming they came from litter number 4). You will pay for and receive 6 papers with these pig numbers and the association will note that your sow had 11 live pigs born.
Many of our breeders breed mainly for pork and do not register most of their litters. If you choose to use all pigs from a litter as pork, then there is no need to register this litter or give it a litter number. You may not even want to notch since all are going to the processor. Notching and registering is for those that may enter the breeding pool at some point.
As owners of these wonderful pigs, you already know how important it is to save this breed and keep it pure. By notching your pigs, naming them for their blood line and getting your breeders registered, you are ensuring their future. And as always, the association is here to help you along the way. Thanks for taking the time to get it right.