And the tag means???

I had a question asked of me on Twitter today, or should I say I answered one that was being discussed. Someone was wondering how we decide what tags go on which cows. I had never thought of it before. Sometimes, when you’re on the inside, things seem so obvious that you forget that others don’t know why you’re doing it…it’s an epidemic in agriculture, and one we’re working on fixing.

To answer the question, yes the tag does mean something. When calves are first born (or at least soon after), they get a tag in their ear with the same number their cow has. The white tags mean that the calf is a bull, the yellow tag means that it’s a heifer (a female that hasn’t had a calf yet).

Separating the two sexes of calves helps make giving the calves their vaccinations easier. Plus, you don’t have to worry about trying to castrate a heifer! 🙂

Purple cow

This cow has a purple tag, you can see the one in the background has a blue tag.

Now the cow tags are different colors for a different reason. Each year the cows get a different color ear tag. Tags come in tons of different colors, so it works pretty well. Cows are normally only on the farm for 10-12 years, as long as they have a calf, they stay. You can look at the cows tag and know which year she was born in. (We have a closed herd, which means every cow that’s on our farm was born and raised here…I’ll explain that more in another post some time.)

Another benefit of having different colors is so that you can easily determine which cow you need to bring in (sometimes looking at a sea of red faces is confusing, but the color of the ear tag helps), during calving season…or any other time of the year, if there is a health issue.

There’s a lot more to it then that, but that’ll do for now. I don’t want to overwhelm you with cow information!

If you have any questions, please, feel free to ask. I love talking about our farm…and I’ll gladly take a video or some photos to help out the process! 🙂

18 thoughts on “And the tag means???

  1. Great info, Val. Thanks!

    I have a few questions about calving:

    (1) do all farmers/ranchers use the same color system?
    (2) does each ear tag have a number to track the individual cow?
    (3) do cows get pregnant and calve at the same time every year?
    (4) is a first-calf heifer usually 2 years old?
    (5) how many calves will a cow produce (e.g. one per year, beginning at 2 years old and continuing until about 12)?

    Thanks again.


    • Ooh, I LOVE questions! But this is my disclaimer: these answers apply to our herd only. Every farmer/rancher does things a little differently, depending on what works for them, etc. So, I’m not claiming that this is the ONLY way to do it, just the way WE do it! 🙂 I’ll answer the questions without going too indepth, but I’m going to use these questions for a blog post in the next few days…that way I can answer the questions as completely as I can! Thank you for taking the time to ask!
      1) Not all producers use the same color system. In fact, not all cattlemen/women use colors at all. Some may use numbered tags, some may use electronic tags, each operation may be different.
      2) Each of our ear tags are numbered. We have a written and a computer file (called the CHAPS system) that we record each birth, sale, death, breeding, etc. We have maintained these records for decades. Each cow and calf share the same number until a) calf is sold or dies or b) calf becomes part of the herd and gets her own number, which color coordinates with all the other calves from that year. We recycle our numbers. For example: this year we have a cow that has been here for 16 years (her last season), her number will be given to a heifer next year.
      3) In our herd, yes, cows get pregnant and calve at the same time every year…but that’s not by chance. We live in North Dakota, where winters are tough and cold. but dealing with cold and ice is a LOT easier (in our minds) than dealing with mud and muck. Plus, as long as you have shelter for your calves, survival is pretty good and health issues (i.e. scours) are minimal. Our herd is a closed herd (I have a blog post about that too), meaning that every cow on our farm right now was born here. In order to make sure that our heifers have the easiest time calving, etc., we use artificial insemination the first time around in breeding. It gets complicated, but every decision we make is in the best interest in the cow. We breed at the same time every year (within a few days or so) and prior to breeding the cattle are synchronized. That means that we feed and follow a protocol that assists in getting their cycles in tune. This allows our breeding to be more exact, our chance of success greater and our timing of calving easier. As we get closer to breeding time, I’ll be writing a lot more about that. Now, that doesn’t mean all our cows calve at once. We have three cycles that we follow, making it easier for us to know when to start watching closely for calves. Did that answer the question good enough? Like I said, there’s a LOT more to it, but that’s the bones about it.
      4) Yep. A first-calf heifer is usually 2 years old.
      5) On our farm, a cow will usually produce about 12-14 calves while she’s here. Of course, that’s all up to Mother Nature, though. If when we check the cows for pregnancy in the fall, and we find out that she isn’t having a calf, we usually sell her. Sometimes she may go to a feedlot to be finished, but many time, those cows that are open are bought by other herds that calve at a different time than we do. If a cow loses her calf in the spring, be it by accident, by illness or by weather, many times we will adopt another calf to her. (We have a very high instance of twins on our farm…with 18 sets being born this year to a total of 173 cows that were to calve.) Our cows have all been very good mothers, and we prefer to keep them here as long as we can. Again, we do have a cow that has spent 16 years on the farm this winter, but that was more of an oversight than intentional. My husband loves these animals, she’s a really good mother, and he has a hard time letting go! 😉 (Don’t tell him I said that!)

      I would love to answer any other questions, and again, I’ll get more into the meat of it in another post. THANKS!!!


  2. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. We do a similar tagging system with our cattle and with our goats. It helps keep everything more organized and not so overwhelming….Oh and glad to hear you’ve been having good weather for the calving.

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  4. Hi, I like to know about the blue tags in ears, I’ve just got this pony and in the passport it says that he had a blue tag in his left ear, and the number next to it, if you could help me on any advice about it I be most grateful, plus he hasn’t been treated well he’s so nervous. Thank-you for your time. Emma

  5. I bought two baby Holstein calfs maybe only two weeks old if that. They both died in less then 24 hours of bringing them home. The farmer will not return my calls and is no where to be contacted…. Is there any recourse and how can I find out what farm they were born on?

    • Please accept my condolences. Losing any calves always hurts, and for you it’s even worse, because your calves were not born on your farm and were so young.

      Please note that the laws of every state are different, so you definitely need to consult local counsel. However, you can insist that the auction house or other party from whom you purchased the calves disclose the name of the cow-calf farmer where your calives were born, and you can then insist that the farmer disclose information aboto the calives, including the identities and health records of the cows and any health issues relating to the cows, their calves and other cows and calves.

      It will help you if you can determine information from your vet about the cause of death of your calves.

  6. Hiya I saw a young calf with 2 yellow tags and a blue one what does this mean? Also a big cow just with one (yellow) some and one in each ear.

  7. What do red tags mean..I’m on a farm got stray cows coming on to my property.Dont know who they belong to.How can I find out who owns them.HELP

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