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Jan 10, 2022 10:11:50 AM / Brooke Loeffler / Tagging a new calf

Tagging New Calves: How to Do it Safely

Tagging a new calf can turn into quite the rodeo for any sized operation. Here are a few tips that can help take some of the headache out of tagging your new generation of calves.

Why Should I Tag My Calves?

Even if you have a small herd, tagging and keeping track of your animals can be immensely helpful down the road. Whatever system you use (color coded, numbers only, right/left ear, etc.), it is best to pick a tagging system, stick with it, and be consistent. Consider using herd management software or apps to help you log data and look for patterns.

Pairs Dams and Calves

Tagging links mamas and babies to help you identify a lot of necessary concerns:

  • Health concerns passed on from dam to calf
  • Which cows produce the healthiest babies
  • Which cows have the strongest maternal ability and take the best care of their calves
  • Helps you cull or process non-producing cows 

Herd Movement

Younger calves are not as practiced at keeping up with mom and the rest of the herd when moving to a new pasture. Tagging your calves helps you make sure stragglers don’t get left behind (especially for large grazing areas).

Monitor Herd Health

Tagging your calves gets you on the path for monitoring animal health right from the get go:

  • Track milk feedings
  • Identify which calves need separation due to scours or other health concerns
  • Stay organized for vet treatments and future vaccinations/treatments 

When to Tag

Give calves at least 24 hours before trying to tag them. That way, you can focus on critical colostrum feedings on day 1. This also gives them a chance to dry off before you start handling them (newborn calves are slippery!). Our recommendation is to tag calves on days 2-3; before they become too strong and fast to catch!

Where to Tag

Whether you tag in the left or right ear, there are a few markers to look for to protect your calves’ health.

Where to tag a calf

Calves have a couple of thick cartilage ridges that extend to the outer edge of their ear. These ridges help their ears keep their shape; open and ready to pivot for hearing, or drive away flies. For fluffier cow breeds, you may need to feel for these ridges instead of just looking for them.

Tags should be pierced through the flat, smooth tissue that lies between these cartilage ridges. Driving a tag through the ridge can cause deformation and infection. Also be on the lookout for larger blood vessels to avoid.

Their ear cartilage thickens as it gets closer to their head and thins at the extremities. Place the tag closer to the head than the ear tip (where the tag will collapse the ear over itself and is more likely to get torn out). However, don’t tag too close to their head because it will fit too tightly due to the thicker cartilage. (Use the above diagram for ideal tag placement).

How to Tag

Every operation finds their own way to tag depending upon what facilities and workforce are available. However, every tagging attempt should look something like this:

  • Check alignment on your applicator: make sure pieces are lining up and working the way they are supposed to.
  • Prep tag: if you are not using pre-numbered tags, use a dark/heavy ink tagging marker to prevent fading, write numbers bold and large for easy identification
  • Disinfect tag and tagger
  • Make sure tag is facing the correct direction on the applicator (to face forward on the calf)
  • Restrict body movement: Use either a chute/calf cage, or a manual hold and get their legs off the ground
  • Restrict head movement: again using a chute or manual hold
  • Place tag in the proper location of desired ear (see diagram above)
  • Make sure tag is secure before releasing
  • Document your new calf and number on your records
  • Clean tagger between calves

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