The Benefits of Identification Tags on the Ranch and Beyond

Published on Mon, 02/06/2023 - 2:34pm

The Benefits of Identification Tags on the Ranch and Beyond.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 A well-conceived system to keep track of animals with visual identification has significant value on the ranch and across the beef production chain. Using reliable ear tags can significantly reduce headaches associated with monitoring bred cows, treated cows, cows in heat, and more.

When you have an effective identification system in place, everyone - including newbies - can work efficiently with cattle at critical times of the year, when things are moving fast and require everyone to work together to make things happen. Reliable identification tags will help you keep track of heifers or cows that have been confirmed open during preg checks and need to run with the bull. This information can also be used to identify problem breeders to be culled.

One might think a product as simple as an ear tag would have few options. But today, you have a dizzying variety of options, which may make it a challenge to narrow down the perfect solution for your ranch. Whatever tag you use, be it totally electronic or traditional, make sure you choose tags that are easy to read, last long and suit their purpose.

Good identification matters
The larger the group of animals you manage, the harder it is to manage them as individuals. But keeping track of this information for bookkeeping, health records and herd history is essential. The better this system, the better able you are to track trends, monitor performance, identify issues and isolate outliers.

For today’s beef herds, identification is an effective tool to keep records, track performance and reproductive information, and monitor treatments or routine health work. Having tags that are easy to read when working cattle ensures that data collection will be accurate. They also make it  easy to pull underperformers and can serve as a valid form of official, federally-approved identification.

While it takes more hours of labor to tag calves shortly after birth, your life will be much easier in the long run. Not only can they be paired with their dams, but a system of consecutive numbers provides a general sense of their age and birth order.

Tag selection
With a plethora of tags and opportunities to customize, you are sure to find a system that works for your ranch. The way you manage your cattle and use tags will ultimately dictate your selection.

Depending on how you plan to use tags, color can make a big difference for visual identification. Bright colors that contrast well with black or white numbering are important for long-distance reading and low light. Some operations also use different colored tags (temporary or permanent) to identify different groups, movements or animal needs.

Button tags, usually referred to as EID (electronic identification) or RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, use a 15-digit number that is either manually read or scanned with a reader. With the increase in herd management software and greater affordability of scanners, more operations are moving towards this method of identification. EID and RFID tags can (and should) be used in tandem with standard hang tags as a cross-reference.

Identification purposes
Official USDA 840 tags are available in both electronic and visual hang tag formats. These tags are stamped with an official US shield and associated with an operation’s registered premise ID.

These tamper-proof tags serve as part of the voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS). These tags suffice as an official form of identification, which may be necessary at sale barns and for interstate transportation. NAIS tags also afford disease traceability for contagions that pose a risk to other herds and humans, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called mad cow disease.

Beyond the ability to trace outbreaks to animals that may have passed through your operation, these tags can help you identify sick animals that you acquire. Animals that are properly registered and identified can be traced to their original farm or ranch. This insurance may protect you from certain liabilities and help you make more informed buying decisions in the future.

On a practical level, individual identification is key when trying to keep accurate records, especially for animals that are destined for sale, on a disease treatment program, or need to be held for drug withdrawal purposes.

While ear tags can be removed, ripped out, or become faded, this is not common and they can be easily coupled with other more permanent forms of identification, such as legally recognized heat or freeze brands and tattoos.

Use what works best for your herd
Overall, a rancher should find a system that works best for their operation. But when considering identification methods, there are a few things they should consider.

As mentioned numerous times, primary considerations are ease of obtaining or reading the tag number, size of the operation and herd goals. The easier the number is to accurately and easily identify, the easier it will be to organize records and communicate with employees.

To be effective, it is important to start tracking the animals as soon as you can. Once a calf hits the ground, prompt tagging will help you manage it across its life.

Using tags or identification to help with the management of animals also enables the operation manager to have accurate treatment records, which may be useful if problems arise when animals are sent to market.

Keeping track of a system that can pair dam and calf will provide even more data. It will help you identify lower genetic animals so the best genetics remain and continue to build in the herd.