May 3, 2012

Why we Tag our Cattle....

A few weeks ago I was visiting with a co-worker at the office and they asked if I had "big plans for the weekend".  Well at that time we were smack dab in the middle of calving season.  So without thought or hesitation I said that I would be baby sitting a bunch of cows and tagging the new born calves, do the feeding chores maybe a hour earlier so that we could maybe eat supper before the hour of 10 pm, and if I had some "spare" time maybe get some laundry done.  That is when I got the deer in the head lights look and was asked "tag the calves????".  Yep I "had lost them at hello" =0) and it only took me a few seconds to realize they were asking if we had some fun "date night" planned, or if we had big plans to do something classified as fun not work.  It is so easy sometimes to forget our audience and forget that in 99% of my daily conversations while at the day job I can speak "farmer/rancher" because I spend my day working with cattle guys and gals. 
Why we tag our calves.  To me it is very simple and obvious.  We need to know which animal is which and be able to identify them from our neighbors calves if they should cross fences.  When you walk out to find 3 or 4 calves out of a group of 150 when 98% of them are solid black and pretty much look the exact same it is like finding a needle in a large hay stack.  And using the identity of "the black calf with the fluffy hair on his for head" only works when it is not raining, snowing, or the wind isn't blowing (which isn't very often in Nebraska).  Tagging involves nothing more than putting a plastic tag in their ear that we can write or if you are really cool you can buy the tags that come pre-stamped from the company with what ever you want printed on them.  It causes no more pain to the animal as does getting your ears pierced.  I have seen people with piercings in places that are way more pain sensitive than the cartilage filled ear.  Every one of our cows are tagged with their own unique number.  We use a 3 digit system where the 1st number is the last digit in the year that the cow was born.  The second 2 numbers help to establish the unique identity. 

007 and her newly tagged calf.  She is the ONLY red cow
currently have but her calf looks very much like the rest.

Cow #007 was born in 2010 and is the only cow in our herd with that particular number.  When she becomes 10 yrs old we will make a black mark underlining the numbers to signify that we need to add 10 yrs to her age.  When the cows give birth we put a smaller tag in the calf's ear with the exact same number as the cow.  That way we know which calf goes with which cow.  We keep track of how each cow performs each year and if she doesn't meet the standards we will sometimes remove her from herd earlier than normal, or if she has a trait that is not desirable we will not keep replacement heifers from her.  The numbers in the steer calves will follow them all the way to the feedlot.  At that time the feedlot we sell to will give them a unique 16 digit Age and Source Verification number (we will put them in sometimes before the calves leave, but 1 buyer likes using their own series of numbers to save time on data entry) tag which is referenced back to our ranch tag number.  Only number like it in the whole United States.  Some of the new tags have these 16 digit numbers stored electronically and can be scanned with a scanner which can be downloaded to a computer program.  This works great when working calves, you can scan the tag and that animals life history will come up on the computer, then new data (weight, vaccine or medications given, breeding data) can be added to that animals life history.
This calf (#149) was born to cow #149.  The yellow tag in his left ear (your right) is an Age and Source Verification tag.  Above the "2968" you can see is the 16 digit number that is unique to this calf. 

 When the feedlot gives us the feedlot and carcass data back at the end of the feeding period we will reference that data to the cow each calf came from.  This helps us to identify which cows are the best and are meeting our goals.  So tagging is very important in giving a unique identity to each animal on our farm and gives us a great tool to monitor our productivity on an individual basis.

Even the bulls get tagged.  At a glance I know that this bull was born in 2009 (the 2 digits at the top) his breed is SimAngus (the S in the middle), his unique # is 3, and the 007 at the bottom is a reference to his father.  This helps to prevent mix-ups, as this bull is known for lower birth weights and is the bull we use on our yearling heifers. 
We also use color to help us identify our cattle and differentiate them from the neighbors or within our own herd.  We lease the majority of our cow, we tag those cows and calves with white tags.  Even though we do own a portion of the calves born every year we tag them all to match.  Any cow, bull, or calf born to cows we own are tagged in pink.  That way we see at a glance which animal belongs to whom. 

This is 1 of our 3 sets of twins this year.  They both have the number 024 which is the cows number.  We know that the cow was born in 2000 not 2010, can't see the line on the other tag it was hard to get 6 ears belonging to 3 different animals facing the right way at the same time.  We put  the letter "a" or "b" above the calf number to uniquely identify which twin is which.  These 2 are so identical only a mother could tell them apart and I am not sure she knows which is which some days!!!

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