The following post is written by contributor, Jill from Crooked Lake Farm. Jill shares stories of the real side of farming and life on a farm. To read more, follow her on her blog and engage with her on Twitter.
Okay, so now you have “Who Are You” by The Who running through your head. Sorry, but I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title to discuss cattle identification.
I get a lot of questions about how we keep track of our cows. There are many ways to identify cattle: tattoo, dangle tags, RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, metal clamp tags, brisket tags, and branding, to name a few. On our farm, our cattle have 3 different types of individual identification—their RFID tag, a dangle tag with their unique number on it, and a metal clamp tag.
In Canada, all cattle are required to have a RFID tag when they leave their home premise. To facilitate this process, we automatically give all calves an RFID tag when they are born. This tag is how I track all the animals in my database, and these numbers (which are unique to each animal) are registered with the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (http://www.canadaid.com) yearly, along with their birthdate.
Our second tag that gets put in the cows ear is their dangle tag with their own unique number for our herd. This tag also gets placed as a calf, shortly after (2-3 days) they are born. On our farm we use a combination of a letter and a number. The system we use is from the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation.
They have a set series of letters that correlate to the year. For example this year, 2015, is the letter C. Last year, 2014, was the letter B, and next year, 2016, will be D. The letters I, O, Q, and V are not used. The calf receives it’s number by the chronological order in which it was born. Our first calf this year has been named C01. We just had our 29th calf, so it’s number C29. If I cows looses a calf, I keep that number because we record it. On our calf dangle tags, the calf number is wrote small at the top of the tag, and the mom’s number is wrote on the majority of the tag. This helps when matching up pairs to move to different pastures, if a baby wanders away from mom, or a calf is sick and needs to be locked up. In one quick glance we can see who he or she belongs to.
Because we are a beef operation, we steer all our bulls (castrate) and sell them for their meat—either direct to consumer or through the auction market. We keep most of our female cows—heifers—for future mother cows. When a heifer is confirmed to be carrying her first calf, she gets a new tag that has her number wrote in large letters, and her mom’s number wrote in small writing at the top (a reverse from when she was a calf).
Who are you?
The metal clap tag is the third way to identify our cows. This clamp is given to a cow after her first calf, when we are sure she is going to be in our herd for a while. Cows can, and often do lose dangle and RFID tags. The metal clamp is our way to permanently identify the cow. This clamp tag is not a requirement like the RFID tag, but since we are Verified Beef Production Producers, we need to have a permeant way to identify the cow. This fulfils that need.
All three tags have different tools that they are applied with to minimize pain in the animal. We make sure the animal is properly secured and that movement of the animal’s head is minimized. When tagging, the tags should be applied in the middle-third of the ear between the upper and lower ribs.
All our equipment is disinfected prior to use to minimize infection. I’m not doubting that ear tags hurt; but my observation is the pain is short lived. I always compare ear tagging to getting your ear pierced—it hurts for a little bit.
With proper tagging and identification, there’s no wondering “Who are you?” when it comes to cattle.