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Cattle Identification Tips

Cattle Identification Ear Tag Tips

Farmers, ranchers, and producers have a variety of products to choose from when it comes to cattle identification. Electric ID tags, RFID tags, and plastic or vinyl ear tags are all used to identify cattle in a herd. The type of tags used depends on their needs and preferences.

Due to the wide selection, Jeffers’ former Livestock Specialist, Leigh Ann Ennis, shares her tips on using traditional ear tags when tagging cattle.

A picture of a black and white cow standing in a green pasture with two yellow ear tags on their ear.

Choosing a Size and Style

Ear tags come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Depending on the brand and size of tag needed, sizes can range from 2″ H x 5/8″ W (Small) to 4 3/4″ H x 3″ W (Maxi or Large). The shape of tags can range from rectangular or square to an almost triangular shape. With such a large assortment of shapes and sizes, it can be difficult to understand which tag will work best for your needs.

Generally speaking, smaller tags are designated for calves and smaller livestock. Larger and maxi size tags are best for fully-grown, mature cattle. One thing to keep in mind is that smaller tags can be hard to read from a distance. Consider using a larger sized ear tag for your small cattle if you have difficulties reading ear tags while out in the field.

Choosing between a two-piece ear tag or a one-piece ear tag is up to the preference of the producer.  A two-piece ear tag has the male and female parts separated in order to attach the ear tag to the animal. A one-piece ear tag has everything attached together and there are fewer pieces to misplace. Cattle are believed to have fewer ear infections when using a one-piece tag. Most brands use an antimicrobial agent on the male part to help prevent potential infections.

A picture of a brown and white cow wearing an ear tag on their right ear that is labeled with a marker that reads C25 for cattle identification.

Choosing an Ear Tag Color

When choosing a color for your tags consider the following: How well will the black print contrast on the tag from far away? Darker tags can be too dark to read with a regular blank ink marker and numbering system. A white ink marker on the darker tag might be easier to read. Lighter color tags should use a black ink marking pen for easier readability from afar.

Another question to consider when choosing a color is, how do you want to separate and organize the herd? Some farmers use a specific color to mark a particular year. Other farmers use specific colors to identify bull calves and heifer calves. Tagging calves with the same ID number as their mother is helpful when sorting cow and calf pairs. Calves can then receive their own unique ID number when weaned.

A brown and white cow wearing a number ear tag that reads 6118.

Purchasing Numbered Tags vs. Blank Tags

Ear tags are available numbered or blank. Numbered Ear Tags already have a set range of numbers printed on them. On blank ear tags, producers use tag marking pens to write their own numbering system. Marking pens and markers can be cut to a desired width or angle for better visibility. View our video on The Best Cattle Tags for Leigh Ann’s suggestions on how to create your own numbering system.

What to Include on a Tag for Cattle Identification

What to put on a tag is up to each producer. Important information to include on a livestock tag is the date of birth, dam ID, sire ID, and sex of the animal if a color tag is not used to differentiate. One suggestion is to tag both ears and put half of the ID information on the front of the tag and the rest on the back in case a tag is lost.  For instance, the mom and dad information can be put on the front of one tag and the date of birth and sex on the back. Then on the opposite tag put the date of birth and sex on the front of the tag and the mom and dad information on the back. This way if a tag is lost all of the information is still there.

Tag placement is typically preferred in the middle section of the ear unless the animal will need to be tattooed there. It is important to make sure the ear tag isn’t too close to the edge of the ear as it may tear out more easily.

Choosing an Ear Tag Brand

There are a lot of quality brands to choose from when selecting the right cattle ear tags. Top brands include Allflex, Y-Tex, and Z Tag. Something to consider when selecting a brand of ear tags is ear tagger compatibility. Most taggers are not universal, even within a specific brand. Before purchasing a tagger, confirm its compatibility with the tags you intend to use.

Jeffers Livestock has a selection of all of these identification tools including ear tags, taggers, and tag marking pens. Whether choosing the right size or selecting a specific color, Jeffers hopes these tips will help you with your cattle identification system.