Tags can give us a lot of relevant information at a glance. Over the years as a veterinarian I have seen many different tagging systems that have had a lot of thought put into them. Many applications require multiple tags especially now that we need to apply RFID tags and age verify our cattle. These double or multiple systems also have some intrinsic benefits.
With any tagging system there is the inherent cost of the tags, a long-term investment in the tagger and the need to have extra pins plus an acceptable inventory of tags on hand.
The largest or maxi-type tags provide the best visibility especially if they are used in cattle that have lots of hair in their ears.
The three main marking systems are either prenumbered, those marked with tag ink and engraved tags.
Prenumbered tags are available off the shelf or they can be ordered ahead with specififarm information on them.
Blank tags should be marked with thick ink in a way that all the relevant information can be applied to the front and even the back of the tag. I have seen purebred producers get both the dam and sire number on the tag as well as the calf s birth date on the back. The dam s number is really good to have if mothering up the calf. Over time even with the best of inks these tags do fade and may need to be rejuvenated or at least wiped off when they come through the chute again.
Engraved tags are the most expensive but are very pliable even in very cold weather and remain readable for the life of the animal.
Be sure you have someone with good penmanship mark the tags. The ability to read the tags is an integral part of your annual management. Which cows to cull, divide into breeding groups, AI, foot trim, bring in for calving or treat are all based on the ability to read the tag. I find you can almost predict the management on a beef operation by the tagging system employed.
Colours can be used in many different ways. Commercial producers may use different colours to quickly identify steers and heifers or different owners in a multiple owner operation. When these coloured and numbered tags are cross-referenced to the RFID tags it is easy to correctly identify an animal when one of the tags is lost.
Feedlots may use different colours to denote home pen location. This makes locating cattle very easy. Purebred breeders use colour to identify different breeds if they run more than one, or percentage and hybrid cattle. With a lot of the breeds having both red and black lines different colours are much more useful than you can imagine.
You want to be able to glean as much information as possible from a quick glance at a tag in the chute or out on pasture. Some use tags in the opposite ear to mean something. Left may be heifers and right for steers. Purebred operators usually tag in the opposite ear from the tattoo. They may break from this and use the tattooed ear to tag freemartins or definite culls. Others mark twin on a freemartin s tag to keep them from being inadvertently saved as replacements. Tattooing is mainly in the right ear but a lot of Charolais and Salers cattle are tattooed in the left ear.
I still really like using the letter system for the year they were born, whether commercial or purebred. If you simply remember every five years you can fill in the blanks remembering they don t use I, O, Q, or V. The year 2000 was K, 2005 was R and 2010 X. At a glance then the age is immediately known and I find this very helpful. Most purebred producers also match the tag number to the tattoo, which makes it easy when tags are lost.
Find the brand of tag that works well for you and stick with it. Application guns and the size of the pins vary so don t mix and match. Have spare pins and even a spare tagger when doing a big job. Over time taggers wear down and break. You don t want an entire processing operation slowed down because of tagger or pin failure.
Use the slotted tag cutters for removing old, damaged, faint or fly tags. They are much safer than cutting the tag out with a butcher knife and quicker. The new tag can generally be placed in the existing hole with the cattle showing little concern.
Always be careful working around the head especially with fractious cows and all bulls. Keep at arm s length. Always have the tags ready and be prepared to retag some every time the cattle are processed.
Make use of the tags for other things. For culling we usually make a notch in the bottom of the tag. This brings to our attention to look up what the problem is in case it has slipped our minds. When preparing marker (gomer) bulls I generally notch the existing tag and we may put one in that says gomer on it.
A good tagging system minimizes mistakes either by your own crew or by people brought in to help with processing.
As tags have become more and more important as a herd identifier for age verification, traceability and as one of our eventual links to the consumer, it is to be hoped that tag retention will become less of an issue as manufacturers improve the quality.
Take pride in your tagging system. Remove extraneous ones and leave room for implants in the case of commercial cattle or room for the tattoo in the case of purebred cattle. RoyLewisDVM