Don’t Ear Tag Your New Born Calves

Many cow-calf producers think it is sacrilegious to not ear tag calves at birth.   Most do it because they have always done it.   Several years ago, the PCC Discussion Group came up with several “Kooky Notions” that the members used to have.   Ear tagging calves at birth was one of those kooky notions. I’m sure many of you are saying, “What’s wrong with tagging calves at birth?”  To begin with, each and every one of your cows knows which calf is hers – without an ear tag.   If you are a commercial rancher (not raising registered cattle), you are NOT getting paid to ear tag your calves.   I am not against putting identification ear tags in every animal – but it can be done when the calves are run through a chute for vaccinations, etc.   It does not have to be done within a few hours after birth. There are at least four problems with ear tagging calves at birth.   First and foremost, it is dangerous.   Every year we hear about someone being seriously injured or killed while trying to tag a newborn calf.   How would you feel if someone in your family got hurt while tagging a newborn calf? Second, ear tagging calves at birth disrupts the bond between a momma cow and her newborn calf.   This is a very critical time for a newborn calf.   Any outside interference does

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14 thoughts on “Don’t Ear Tag Your New Born Calves

  1. I agree with Kit and dont think calves in a commercial herd should be tagged at birth.

    I dont know but it seems like some of the responses to tagging at birth and the issues that crop up include objections that if working with mother nature are things you would want your livestock to be doing.

    Cows ferociously protecting their new born calves seems like something you would want especially in range cattle. Maybe consider adding to the cull herd cows or heifers that dont mother their newborn calves.
    Happy trails, Mike

  2. We run 2 herds together so cows have 2 diff irons. we need to be sure calves match up to cows prior to branding. we also use the opportunity to give Inforce 3 nasaly, Haven’t had a sick calf no matter what the weather in years. It pays! we get 750 pound calves at weaning!

  3. I’m curious then how you select good replacement heifers. If you don’t want to keep a heifer (that otherwise looks adequate) based on traits you don’t care for in her mother? What about tracing reputation calves (with carcass data) that you recieve a premium or guaranteed buyers for back to thier dam if you want to keep her daughters for replacement heifers? I suppose there is an argument for the labor/safety issues, but it seems information on individual animals and subsequent selection can be valuable for progressive producers who know how to use that information.

    Additionally, after tagging many many calves, I have never seen an issue with it interfering with bonding or health, although typically we were waiting a few days after birth and therefore were not going out twice a day. Furthermore, we didn’t tend to keep around the monster cows that tried to crawl in the pickup cab with you (or thier daughters).

  4. Well that’s all fine and dandy until you have heifers that calve and don’t claim their calf. Then pretty soon you have a few calves that you notice wandering around without a mother and are starving to death. And since you didn’t tag the calf when it was born you have no idea who the mother is. Even older cows will calve and either leave their calf or lose their calf. We don’t live in a perfect world where every cow is a “Grade A” mother. It’s well worth your time and effort to tag calves after birth in my opinion.

  5. You MUST tag at birth calves in organic herds, but if you fall calve thing increases frost bite also .. We need a better tag! My mom in law works for ytex but we use Richie tags but still need something better.

    1. We need to convince the OG certifiers that herd management is same/similar to flock management and only the treated animals need identified or separated.

  6. I would think that only applies to commercial folks and anyone not collecting any data for EBV calculations. Any purebred herd will need ways to positively identify animals from birth.

    We raise sheep and one of the culling criteria is a ewe who will not allow us to catch, weigh and tag her newborn lambs on pasture without running off. I wish I could post a picture of a ewe carefully observing as we work with her lambs. If she loses interest because of our handling she’s a cull.

    1. Agreed. With the sheep tagging is more important when selecting ewe lamb replacements. Better to keep that nice set or twins from a ewe who usually has twins than the slightly better single lamb from a ewe who usually has singles. I started ear notching right for twins, double right for triplets, and left for singles in case time is short or records/tags lost when selecting replacements.
      I don’t know why cows seem to have a much harder time counting to two than ewes. They seem to ignore a twin so often it may not be a benefit. But we do want to know who has the most easy keeping best behaving calves. But tagging newborns in the field can be dangerous. The first year after getting guardian dogs shortly before lambing was the only time I was butted, and by several ewes. They were hyper protective that year. Most ewes have now grown up with dogs.

      1. We use EID tags and enter in birth weights and all ID info in the field as the ewes lamb. No problems with dogs but as you say all of the ewes have grown up with guardian dogs and we cull heavily on disposition. A ram that butts us a second time gets butchered, I don’t care how good his EBVs are! We use NSIP doe EBV data and use it as one of our selection tools but it is not the only one.

  7. I quit chasing newborn calves years ago. It is a good way to get hurt not to mention the potential damage to the calf. The ears are still tender, way to easy to damage them. I lost a lot less tags when tagging them when they are older. Some of the older cows that were tagged as newborns have a hole so big you have to create another hole to re-tag them.

    1. Intersting, when we tagged lambs as older animals we lost far more tags and had shredded ears. By tagging at birth we lose fewer tags overall and the sheep seem to learn how not to get stuck in fences and rip the tags.

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