Identifying our cattle is how we know who they are. Sure, we get to know their personality when we are out with them everyday on the ranch. 1103Y is the bossy cow always to the feed bunk first. I would know that if she had a ear tag or not! But since we work with over 1,000 animals on the ranch, we need to use more than one way to identify them.
Ranchers were tagging cattle before tagging was cool! (I had to say it.)
The first thing we do when a calf is born, is check its health, its sex and its mama. Then we make a tag for it. The calves on our ranch that are commercial calves only get one tag in their ear and it will be a letter/number combination. An industry recognized year code is used internationally among cattle producers…we are in year “D” right now, so calves born in 2016 will have a number with “D” on their tag. For example, D112 or 112D. If an animal is commercial (not purebred) on our ranch, we put the letter after. If it is registered (or seedstock or purebred or pedigreed…whatever you want to call it), we put the letter before.
We put the mama’s number on the back of the tag so if we ever need to get them together or find the mother, we know who she is.
Our registered cattle get two ear tags. See this baby below? She has a yellow tag and a colored tag. We have different colors for the owners of the cattle on our ranch (i.e. my parents or siblings. Blue = Mom & Dad, Purple = Ronny and I, Green = sister, Emily, and Red = brother, Ryan & Lindsay). The different colors makes it easier for sorting and identifying.
Another tag we put in each animal, regardless of being commercial or registered, is an electronic ID button. Each button has an RFID (radio frequency identification) number that can be scanned to pull up information. This animal will have this ID its whole life, so even after it leaves the ranch, the history of that animal is known.
Some of the cows on our ranch have “brisket tags.” These cows were purchased and we do not have the tools to put in brisket tags, but I wanted to show a picture of what they look like (shown between the front legs). It’s basically like an ear tag because it is just going through skin and some ranchers say they stay in better than ear tags.
Yes, our cattle get inked. But only the registered ones. We put their ear tag number and our herd prefix (aka our own unique tattoo code consisting of letters and/or numbers) on the inside of their ear. My herd prefix is KCAB. Kelsey’s Cows Are Best. I picked it when I was 8 years old and that was cool. 🙂 My husband loves me enough to keep it, too.
So we essentially prick the cartilage in their ear and roll ink over it so they are permanently identified. I did not have a picture of this, but I pulled a picture of the tattoo gun from the internet, and an ear picture from my college friend, Crystal, and her blog, Crystal Cattle.
Each state has their own brand law, but in Colorado, brands on cattle are required. Each animal that is sold has to have a brand, and it is another way to permanently identify our cattle. We brand our calves at weaning when they are strong and healthy. All branding does is singe the hair follicle so that hair does not grow back, thus showing the brand.
Here is my parent’s brand, a cross hashknife.
Here is Ronny’s and my brand, a cross with backward F/forward P.
Here are what the branding irons look like. I was putting our brands on a piece of pallet wood – I’m crafty like that. 🙂 We use electric branding irons so they stay a consistent heat and we don’t have to put them on the calf for very long.
Identification is important to ranchers and we are always trying to improve the way we do things. Many of our registered cattle require that DNA samples are taken and tested for parentage and also any genetic defects that could affect future generations. We used to either collect hair samples or blood. We recently got a “tissue sampler” which takes a tiny piece of cartilage from the ear that we can send in to be tested. We are finding out that the accuracy on this DNA is amazing and hardly any “outside factors” are affecting the DNA. By doing these tests, we know each animal’s genome and will know how it’s future progeny (calves) will perform. Amazing technology!