How to Tag Cattle

The bright yellow tags contain an identification number for each cow.
The bright yellow tags contain an identification number for each cow. (Image: David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Cattle tags identify the animal or serve as a method of insect control. The tags are installed in the ear. For identification, most ear tags are made of plastic or metal. Numbers and letters are written or imprinted on the tags to identify the animal. Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags emit a specific radio frequency. The data is captured and recorded by an electronic reader. Insecticide ear tags have a coating that rubs off and controls horn and face flies. These tags provide three to four months of fly control.

Things You'll Need

  • Cattle tags
  • Tag applicator
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cattle chute or halter

Select the type of ear tag necessary for identification. If the numbers are visually read from some distance, select a large plastic tag. Create a numbering system for the cattle tags, often a combination of the year the animal was born and an individual identification number.

Order or purchase the cattle tags. Plastic tags are available in an array of colors. Cattle are grouped by the color of the tags. Order the tags preprinted or buy permanent paint pens to write numbers on the tags.

Purchase a tag applicator. There are various brands of cattle tags, and most require a specific type of applicator. The applicators are usually not interchangeable among the brands.

Purchase a RFID tagging system, if necessary. RFID systems consist of tags and a reader. They are also called electronic identification tags or EID tags.

Select the ear to install the cattle tag. Many tags are applied to the left ear because the United States Department of Agriculture uses the right ear for official vaccination tattoos.

Securely restrain the head of the animal in a chute with a head gate or with a halter. Clean the jaw of the applicator and the application site in the animal’s ear with rubbing alcohol. Follow the instructions provided with the tag and applicator. Many cattle tags are placed in the middle third of the ear between the upper and lower ribs (cartilage). Firmly close the applicator and release.

Observe the cattle regularly. Approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of the tags are lost. Replace the tags as needed. If tags must be removed, cut the plastic with a knife or use a tag removal tool.

Purchase insecticide ear tags to control horn and face flies during the fly season. Follow state regulations for the use of the tags. Apply the tags when 50 or more flies are counted on each side of the animal. During application, wear nonpermeable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly when the job is completed. Remove the tags at the end of the fly season in the fall.

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