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Ag in Action 2017



| Reporter

If you live in Central Montana, and

you’ve had to turn to ag supply stores

for gardening, pet or home supplies,

you might have spotted them in the

aisles: ear tags. Often noticeable on

the region’s cattle, the bright earrings

might be puzzling to travelers.

If an ag outsider, such as myself,

had to guess at their role, they might

say identification. It turns out that I’m

a little right and a little wrong. Ear

tags can identify cattle, but often their

role extends beyond differentiating

one cow from another.

This is especially true for seed

stock ranches such as Westphal

Registered Red Angus. The ranch

provides breeding stock, and the

operations need to do more than just

tell cattle apart, according to owner

Vic Westphal.

His breeding stock carry a lot of

information in their ears, and an ID

number being just one piece of the


“Above that number, on our

purebred tags, we’ll also identify the

mother as well,” he said. “We’ll put the

mother’s number so we can identify

who its mother, or its dam, is.”

Since the calves are breed stock,

Westphal added, the ranch needs to

know who the dad is, too.

“On our registered cattle, we’ll

have three layers of numbers,” he

said. “The bottom number is the calf’s

number, the next number up is the

dam’s number and the next number

up is the sire’s.”

That’s a lot of earring info. But it’s

not just the tag’s surface that provides

information: The location can say

something about the animal, too,

according to Westphal.

“With us, we put the heifer calf tag

in the left ear, and we put the bull calf

tag in the right ear so we can tell from

a distance if it’s a bull calf or a heifer

calf,” he said.

The tricky thing about ear tags,

said Westphal, is there are no rules.

Ranchers can do whatever they like to

distinguish their cattle.

“Other people will have a coloring

systems where one color tag is for

calves out of a certain sire,” he said.

Yep, there are different colors, and

that’s not where the variety ends.

“There’s so many different ways

to do it,” he said. “You can put them

in the right ear, the left ear, you can

use different colors and you can use

different sizes.”

So many tags, so many ways

What ear tags actually mean for cattle

Continued on page 4