Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tagging Calves

After feeding this morning, Holly and I were asked to tag calves and sort pairs out of the calving lot where the heifers are currently residing. My mom came along too to help with sorting, and was kind enough to take several photos of Holly and I as we went about our tasks. Here's the calf tagging part of our morning.
If you want to read more about ear tags and how and why they're used, here's a recent post on the topic.

Holly was the official driver, and gunned it across this muddy ditch, laughing and telling how fun that part was. I was a little surprised the first time my typically slow and steady driving sister did this to me, and made sure to hang on this morning!

After successfully making it across the ditch we tagged one calf, then paused to re-load the taggers with the next number, 16. Holly was in charge of the tags, and kept them in her coat pocket.
After this photo was taken I got back on, and Holly drove me to the next calf.

Everything from this picture on took under a minute. After Holly got close to the calf I jumped off and eased up behind him. I have my taggers in my other hand, and the calving record book in my coat pocket.

I like to grab standing calves by the tail first. Luckily this guy didn't seem to mind too much.

Then, if they're standing, you flank the calf and lay him on the ground. Sometimes this catches them by surprise and they bawl, like this guy. Sometimes this results in the mother cow thinking you're harming her baby, and she decides to harm you in order to protect her calf. This guys mother was really mellow about the whole thing, which is probably why mom was able to get so many pictures.

Then you have to get everything situated.

First thing, for me, is to get the calf's feet out from under him so he can't stand back up.

Some calves bawl and carry on throughout the whole deal, like this guy. Others lay quietly. After everything was situated I lifted up a back leg to determine if the calf is a bull or a heifer, this guy was a bull.

Since his mother didn't take offense to me tagging her calf, and was actually not even making herself known, I took the time to record his number and sex while sitting on him. At times, particularly when a 1,000+ pound heifer or 1,200+ pound cow is bearing down on you blowing snot and ready to eat your lunch, it's more logical to spend time writing in the book just about anywhere else but while sitting on her calf.
In those instances you jump on the calf, get him tagged, maybe see if it's a bull or heifer and leave, quickly.

In this case the next step was tagging him, which included making sure to put the tag far enough in his ear that it wouldn't weigh the tip down, and in a location that avoided the bigger veins running through the ear.

He continued to squirm around and bawl throughout the process. He was irritated with having someone sit on him.

When you're done, you just step off the calf and walk, or run, away, depending on the mother's attitude about the whole thing.

Like I mentioned, this guys mom wasn't worried at all. So, I stood by while the usual group of mother's gathered round, pacifying the little guy, and making sure he wasn't their calf, waiting to make sure I had him matched with the right cow in the record book.

Eventually everything sorts itself out. Sometimes this takes longer than others, and heifers are especially helpful and overly interested in anything else going on around them.

But eventually the rightful mother gathers up her young baby, who is none the worse for wear.
This guy wasn't very old, which made tagging him easier. As calves gain weight,strength and coordination, tagging becomes much more challenging in some instances.
This guy was about 24 hours old, and weighed between 70 and 80 pounds. As I mentioned before, tagging doesn't take but a few seconds if everything goes well and you're trying to be fast.
As with most things, a great number of things can also go wrong while tagging calves too, and lots of people have wild stories involving mad cows, dropped taggers and ornery calves.
This is also a task that different ranchers do in different ways. Lots of people use horses, and lots also use 4-wheelers. We've used both over the years, depending the setup and what works best in a given situation.


  1. Great post and yes love the pictures your mom takes as well!

    Did you try linking up with Verde Farm on Friday's??? I think it would be great if even MORE people saw you great blog!

    Thanks for sharing

  2. This is a great post. I always wondered about the tags and how one earth you got them on. The pictures are really awesome and the process is amazing. How long does it take to do a bunch of calves? I bet a good while. Great way to spend the day in my book. Thank you for sharing this with Farm Friend Friday-glad to have you :)

  3. What a great series of photos explaining the process.


  4. glad I found you through FFF,the pictures on your blog are fantastic!