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What Are Cattle Ear Tags Used For?

Last Updated: 25.02.24



Raising cattle is definitely a rewarding activity and the benefits come in various shapes yet managing a herd of cattle successfully involves perseverance, knowledge, and specific techniques and practices. Cattle ear tags are actually part of the management system many farmers use.

If you have wondered about their role at some point and you’re still looking for an answer, this post might be of help. Check it out to learn more about cattle ear tags and their benefits.


Cattle ear tag function

Although to many people, the ear tags cows wear are just a number, to the owner of the cattle, this little piece of information is actually a shortcut to a cow’s history, body mass evolution, vaccination, birth date, bloodline, and other such characteristics.

Ear tags are used to help the livestock producer identify cows, bulls, calves, heifers, and steers and keep a record of their health history and of all the above-mentioned aspects. Such tags are used for other animals as well including sheep, goats, and rabbits.

Benefits of ear tags

As we’ve said before, this number on the tag attached to a cow’s ear is basically a number that is associated with a certain record included in a farmer’s record keeping system. The benefits of using them are various and you can hardly find a reason not to use them.

Knowing the history of every cow in your herd will significantly make your activities easier, as well as your decision-making processes. By being able to track a cow’s health history, you will also be able to act accordingly and provide the right feed in the right amount at the right time.

Tags are also beneficial when it comes to the breeding cattle inventory as it will be easier for you to keep an account of your cows and their age. This proves to be particularly helpful if you want to keep a certain age balance and need more replacement heifers.

The tags will further help you identify the carcass performance of a cow or a bull and the influence the animal had on carcass quality. Moreover, if you’re interested in special beef programs, keeping individual performance records is compulsory. Tags will help you with that as well.

Without these tags, it would be impossible to keep track of the health problems and performance of all the cows in a large group. However, the tags should send you to a record keeping system where you entered all the important information regarding the cows. Therefore, their usefulness depends on the way you organize and record significant data.


Numbering system and tag color

If you’ve reached the tag numbering stage yet you’re not sure about how to do this, there are a few methods you can use. However, every farmer uses a specific numbering system that depends on personal preferences and ease of use.

A popular numbering method is to use a letter from the alphabet to number the year of birth. For example, a calf that is born in 2015 would receive the letter “A”, then the calves born in 2016 would be identified with the letter “B”, and so on. In case you have a large herd of cattle and you reach the letter “Z”, you should use “A” again the following year.

There are some letters livestock producers avoid using such as “O” and “Q” because of their visual similarity that could easily make farmers misidentify them. You could also use numbers next to letters to further divide the cattle.

If you want to keep track of the lot in which an animal was born, you could number the lot and place it after the letter used for the birth year. You would have something like “A01” for a calf born in 2015 in the first lot.

The color of the tag holds specific information as well. Use certain colors as a code for a feature you are interested in. Plus, some farmers divide the cattle by the ear that is being tagged. For example, you could tag the calf’s right ear if it’s a heifer and the left ear if it’s a steer.

When and how to tag your cattle

Most livestock producers tag their cattle when they are calves for a more comprehensive record. However, there is debate regarding the age of the calf to be tagged. Most farmers do not tag the calves immediately after birth given the various dangers involved. It is best to wait for the calves to reach a few months of age before tagging them.

Although tagging the calves is not a difficult process, there are some measures you need to take in order to avoid complications and health risks. If you’re new to this, you might want to call a professional to do that properly and teach you how to do it yourself. Here are some general things to consider when tagging.

Make sure you get an applicator specifically designed for such uses. The most popular tags are plastic tags featuring a flat panel with the written ID number. Today’s market also offers electronic identification systems known as EIDs yet they are more expensive.

The cow should go into a chute when being tagged. Make sure the animal is relaxed and even stroke its ears to help the cow get used to having the ears handled. Find the proper place to be tagged. It should be somewhere between the upper and lower cartilage. The middle portion of the ear is where the cow will feel the least amount of discomfort.

Clean the applicator before you use it. You will thus reduce the risk of infections. All the tools and materials your cow will come in contact with should be sterilized. You can use a disinfecting solution or alcohol to remove bacteria and harmful microorganisms.

Check your cow’s ear after it has been tagged. Keep an eye on the tagging site for a week or so to see if there are any signs of infection. If you do notice redness, swelling, and other such signs, see your veterinarian for the proper treatment.




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