If you are breeding or showing your birds, you will find it soon becomes necessary to identify them. Chickens, ducks and other poultry and pigeons can be clearly identified by a unique number printed on a leg ring which is registered to you when you purchase them.
This allows you for example to prove ownership of your birds at the end of a show before you take them home, or identify birds that are being used in a breeding pen and maintain accurate breeding records.
There are many different types of identification used to identify pedigree animals from the tatoos used on cattle, pigs and horses to ear tags used on sheep, or microchips that are often used on cats and dogs. Identification is used on farms, primarily to identify animals that are going into the food chain but pigeon fanciers adopted leg rings many years before people were ringing poultry and it is mandatory for birds to have a permanent leg ring identification if they are to be entered into a race or a show.
In the U.K. (for some strange reason!) it is not mandatory for poultry to have leg ring identification in order to enter a show (although many exhibitors choose to identify their birds in this way) but in Europe and many other parts of the World, it is compulsory.
The information that is printed on the ring includes a unique number that is registered to the breeder, 'EE' (Required so the birds could in theory be entered into the European shows), and the year / date. Every year, rings are a different colour to allow easy identification of different age birds.
The size of ring used is chosen for the breed. The front toes are held together and the rear toe is held down, if it feels a little tight, some Vaseline can be used to lubricate the area. Rings are closed and need to be put on a bird when they are around 4 to 6 weeks old. As the bird grows, the ring will no longer be able to slip off but should always be loose around the leg but won't be able to fit over the ankle / foot. Cockerels should have the ring fitted above the spur.
Leg ring identification isn't unfortunately any protection against birds being stolen. Thieves can easily cut leg rings off. High value birds are often tattooed by breeders and the Poultry Club of Great Britain now allow birds to be tattooed, providing the identification number is the same as the leg ring. This involves using standard tattooing equipment with hypoallergenic ink to permanently mark the bird under the wing. Some breeders will offer this service to others although even with permanent tattoos, birds are still unfortunately being stolen. It appears that specific breeds / breeders high value stock is often targeted, sometimes even being taken from pens at shows, so it is probable that tattooed birds are being used in breeding pens by the thieves to produce offspring from them. At least permanent tattoos make it much more difficult for thieves to sell stolen birds on at auction.
If you sell rung birds, you will find it does increase the value of the bird slightly. People seem to be prepared to pay a little more for them and my guess is this is because the bird is perceived to be from better quality 'show' stock. When selling a bird, you need to fill in a transfer form from the PCGB to register the new owner of that ring number.
Photos of Tattoos courtesy of Jason Spencer.