cow with a tag

What Are Cattle Ear Tags And Why Do You Need Them

By Dairy Farming Hut

Cows, Goats, Sheep

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If you’ve ever been on a cattle farm, driven past one, or seen one on TV, you might have noticed something unusual about the animals’ ears. Regardless of whether they’re cows or bulls, you may or may not have noticed that most of them have a certain kind of ‘accessory’ attached to their ears. Often, these things also have some sort of writings on them as well.

What are they? They’re cattle ear tags.

These tags come in several different types and materials, but they all serve the same general purpose: they help the dairy farmer manage their livestock much more efficiently.

In this article, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about cattle ear tags. We’ll begin by understanding cattle ear tags' functionality before looking at the many different types that farmers use today. To expand your understanding, we’ll discuss how those tags are put on and taken off and what other animals use them as well.

Let’s get started.

How Do Cattle Ear Tags Work?

As mentioned earlier, cow ear tags come in all sorts of different types. Still, they generally serve the same purpose and therefore work the same way. 

Farmers may choose to tag one or both ears of their cows and bulls. Then, they’ll take crucial information and print it onto those tags. There’s no fixed way to do it, so farmers can either do it with a good old marker pen or printed it using a laser printer specially designed for ear tags.

As you’ll see a little later in this article, electronic cattle ear tags or ‘smart tags’ are also becoming increasingly popular these days. With that kind of cow ear tag, you can encode the information digitally onto the tags directly. Retrieving all sorts of information on individual animals becomes much easier since all you’d need to do is scan their ear tags.

What Do Tags On Cows' Ears Mean?

Typically, farmers use cattle ear tags as a form of identification. That’s right! Even cattle have their ID numbers, and they’ll carry it on those ear tags wherever they go. Doing this will allow farmers and other workers to quickly identify each cow or bull, just by referring to their ID number.

By making it easy to identify each animal, farmers and any relevant authorities can trace the animal’s life from birth to slaughter.

On top of that, the cow ear tags are also useful to mark the animals’ birth dates. That way, it becomes much easier to determine the animal’s maturity just by looking at the tag from afar.

Does Tagging a Cow Hurt Them?

Cattle farmers typically tag their animals while they’re still calves, meaning they’re tagged very early on in their life. Tagging a cow is a lot like piercing someone’s ears. Sure, they might feel a little pinch, but other than that, the process does not hurt the animal at all. 

It might scare or confuse them for a second, though!

Check out this useful video on applying the tags

How Do You Remove Cattle Ear Tags?

Cattle ear tags are easy and quick to remove, especially when farmers use specialized tools just for that purpose. To understand how someone removes a tag, let’s recall the structure of the cattle ear tag. The tags consist of two parts: the tag itself (which is called the female piece) and the male piece, which holds it in place.

To remove cattle ear tags, farmers have to cut through the tag at the male end, either by using a regular blade or a special one designed for removing cow ear tags.

Types of Cattle Ear Tags

There are several types of cattle ear tags, including:

Button-shaped tags

As mentioned before, cattle ear tags consist of a male and female parts. For button-shaped tags, those two parts consist of discs joined together, which gives them that button shape.

Flag-shaped tags

These tags tend to have a much larger surface area, allowing farmers to write or print more information on them. Because of that large surface, it makes it much easier for farmers to identify the animal from a further distance visually.

Ear tag with a plastic clip

This type of tag is essentially one piece of molded plastic folded over the cattle’s ear. Then, both sides of it are joined together through the pierced ear, just like the other kinds of tags.

Metal ear tags

Some farmers prefer cattle ear tags made with harder materials like steel, brass, or aluminum. Like the rest, all of the information is written or printed on the tag's front-facing part.

Electronic or smart tags

Electronic tags provide much more functionality to those who use them. Farmers can either use them on their own or in conjunction with one of the other visual types of tags mentioned above. The tags usually use RFID technology, so retrieving plenty of information from them is easy by just scanning the tag with an RFID reader.

What Other Animals Use Ear Tags?

Cattle aren’t the only animals that use these kinds of tags. Goats and sheep are also tagged similarly, making it much easier for farmers to manage a large number of animals on the same farm.

What are the Benefits of Cattle Ear Tags?

There is a long list of benefits for farmers who use cattle ear tags. For starters, those tags allow them to visually identify each cow or bull, making it much easier to manage them. For instance, providing vaccinations or medications becomes much easier thanks to tagging since there is a lower chance of mistakenly providing it to the wrong animal.

Plus, the widespread use of cow ear tags means that farmers do not have to resort to older, more painful methods of labeling their animals. One practice that cattle ear tags replaced is cattle branding, where farmers use a hot branding stick to burn markings into the animal’s skin. Thanks to ear tags, those painful and inhumane methods have become obsolete.


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