Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cows with Tattoos

In my last post I mentioned that we would be bangs vaccinating our replacement heifers Monday. That post also shows the working facilities involved, and you can look at it to see how our replacement heifers were loaded into the chute. We will focus on what happened in the chute, and why, for this post.
Bangs vaccinating replacement females is required by law in Wyoming, and is a means of preventing the disease brucellosis in beef cattle. Once a prevalent problem in U.S. cow herds, today it has been eradicated nationwide thanks to the efforts of ranchers and health officials. This is a great example of why a vaccination program is so vital, and helpful to ranchers, and to the people who consume our product.
The only remaining reservoir of the disease is found in wildlife, most notably the elk and bison herds in and around Yellowstone National Park. The disease can be passed between species, and humans are also susceptible. With Wyoming's infected wildlife population, state efforts to control the disease are more ramped up than in other parts of the country where contact with infected wildlife is much less likely to happen.
The disease can really wreak havoc on ranchers, and causes a lot of frustration for those whose cattle are in almost constant contact with the potentially infected wildlife. The result of Brucellosis is late-term abortions, and the disease is present in, and and transmittable from, the aborted fetus and placenta. It's not a fun thing to deal with, and causes a lot of emotional and financial frustration with producers in areas where infected wildlife are prevalent.
This wildlife contact issue isn't as big of a deal in the eastern part of the state, where I'm from, but we are still required to follow the law. This includes Bangs vaccinating all replacement females prior to them reaching one year of age. While the vaccinate doesn't completely eliminate a cow's susceptibility to the disease, it reduces her chances of contracting it.
A vet must perform the vaccination. Then he gives them a certified Bangs tag, and a tattoo in their ear, in case they lose the tag. The tag and tattoo serve as proof they received the vaccination. Each tag has a number, which the vet matches to the producer who owns the cattle. This is also another way to prove ownership in cattle. The reason for all this is to ensure place of origin can be found if an infected animal ever shows up at a sale barn or packing plant. Health officials use the Brucellosis tag, and/or tattoo to trace that animal back to the producer who originally kept her as a replacement heifer. Knowing this information is very helpful during a disease outbreak, and aids in narrowing down a search for the initial cause of an outbreak.

Here are our replacement heifers prior to getting their new tags and tattoos.

Here is the vet filling his syringe with the vaccine.

And here are the individually numbered tags. They are in the shape of a V, and the bottom of the side you can see here is a point that fits into a small hole on the other end. They're easy to put in, and have a very high retention rate.

Here is the tattoo gun. The little points create a specific number sequence. While I'm not positive on this, I believe it lists the month and year she was vaccinated, and possibly more numbers indicating the producers location. For example, it might list the county number (14 in our case) within Wyoming that the herd is located in.

Here's the setup. No changes from a couple days ago, just more snow. My mom also weighed each of the heifers while she was in the chute so we have her growth information on file.

One a heifer is caught, the first thing the vet does is give her a shot.

Then someone, my dad in this case, mugs (holds her head off to the side) the heifer, so the vet can give her the tattoo and tag.

Here is the tagger (out of focus) Note the V-shape. When he squeezes it, it folds the tag over and pokes the pointy end through the hole on the opposite.
The toothbrush is used to apply the green paint used for the tattoo.

First the vet rubs the inside of the heifer's right ear clean with his glove. Then he rubs a generous supply of green paint over the area with his toothbrush.

Next the tattoo tool is aligned...

And squeezed. Following this step more green paint is rubbed over the tattoo.

Then the bright orange Brucellosis tag is put into place. It's put in the top of the ear because it's much less likely to be lost when the cow is rubbing on stuff, eating out of feeders, or doing any number of other things cows do, when in that location.

Then the heifer is released, and rejoins the rest of the bunch.

Despite a green ear and an orange tag that may be rubbed to silver by the time she's old, the heifers are fine and ready to be fed.

While it's hard to see in this picture, the Brucellosis tags really show up in person.
This is another example of the efforts ranchers go through to eradicate, then prevent future outbreaks, of a disease or health issue, and to further increase the safety of our beef product.
One opinion I have is that the state should have a greater financial responsibility in further controlling Brucellosis. They manage the wildlife who carry the disease and infect cattle, and who are the only remaining known carrier in the nation.
It's a terrible loss for a producer to have his livestock exposed. In addition to the loss of calves, and their mothers, his herd is also quarantined. All of his cattle must tested, and come up negative, prior to him being able to move or market anything. Any infected animals are killed to prevent further spreading of the disease.
I think wildlife should be held to the same standard. If the state wants to maintain these herds of infected wildlife, they should control their movement and contact with livestock to a much greater extent than they do now, and be much more involved in compensating ranchers - not only for the immediate loss of his animals, but also for future production loss - when one of their animals causes him financial and emotional loss.


  1. Great post! I just started a post today about hooftrimming at our farm (cow pedicure?!) Hopefully i can get it finished and out soon!


    p.s. Just LOVE your pictures...

  2. Cow tattoo meaning-the ancient symbol of mother’s milk and (as a bull), the cosmic forces that made the world. In many cultures, from ancient Egypt to China, a cow was the personification of Mother Earth.
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