Ag in Action 2017
By JENNY GESSAMAN
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
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
So many tags, so many ways
What ear tags actually mean for cattleContinued on page 4