A Couple of Cattle… with Ear Tags

Charolais Cattle Drawing

Of course, if you’ve seen cattle grazing, you’ve probably seen the little yellow tags coming out of one or both of their ears. They are prominent in all 3 of my newest sketches, the “688 Sisters”.

Cattle Drawings

But what do the ear tags do, and why do cattle have them? Cattle have ear tags that are specifically marked using a special code that assists the cattle rancher in keeping a record of each cow. 

Ear tags are used by the livestock producer to keep production records of bloodlines, birth dates, vaccinations and other key criteria necessary for maintaining a healthy herd of cattle. Without some form of identification, it would be nearly impossible to manage the records of each animal.

Each ranch uses their own numbering system. One method is to number the year of birth using a letter from the alphabet. You’ll notice this in the drawing below, titled 688 Sisters, Sketch # . In this cows left ear is a “T” tag. 

"T" cattle ear tag

Numbers are sometimes also used. Depending on the rancher, it might indicate a certain lot number that was purchased, or it could be the number of the group that were used with a specific bull to breed for a certain quality.

Once an animal is given an identifier, that combination of letters and numbers stays with it throughout its lifetime. The most important consideration for animal identification is that the tag is permanently attached. If it falls off, the rancher has no way of being sure of that particular animal’s history.

Although all cattle ranchers use ear tags, cattle ranchers have also developed other methods of identification, as s<a data-href="http://i.ehow.com/images/a05/p3/5c/do-ear-tags-cows-mean_-3.1-800×800.jpg&quot; data-modal-content="Heads of Cattle image by Rosie Black from Fotolia.com” data-type=”modal”>ome cows are hard to tell apart. 

Just as each producer determines his preferred numbering system for keeping a record of each animal, he also has preferences for the type of identification used. While some cattle ranchers prefer ear tags, others might use ear notching, branding, nose printing, tattoos, neck chains or microchips. Part of the rancher’s decision is based on the ease of use and cost of equipment necessary.

Who knew you could derive so much information from a simple plastic tag?


About Geri Dunn

Western Graphite Artist
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4 Responses to A Couple of Cattle… with Ear Tags

  1. Jane Daugherty says:

    Geri – Your work is just the kind of art we want to see at the Red Bluff Bull & Gelding – WESTERN ART SHOW & SILENT AUCTION – in January, 2012. Check out our website http://www.redbluffbullsale.com/art show

  2. eldy says:

    Love the drawings and very informative write up! On the Thoroughbred Breeding Farm where I worked we had a very simple “barn name” system based on letters of the alphabet being representative of the year of a foal’s birth. It was so much easier to refer to Bill rather that some three word convoluted registered name. Breeding and lineage is very important for Thoroughbred horses but not for those of us at barn level.

  3. Geri Dunn says:

    I think if I had horses, I would stick with names as well… much more interactive and each horse has their own significant characteristics… unlike cattle that stick to the herd mentality and blend into each other. Thanks for reading!

  4. Geri Dunn says:

    Thank you Jane, I will do that!

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