Ear Tags Much More than Cow 'Bling'

  • Article
  • 2 min read March 24, 2015

Much of Kirsten Areias’ world is black and white.

It’s what the California dairy farmer sees when she looks out among the 300 or so dairy cows on her farm – black and white Holsteins.

“They’re not easy to tell apart,” she says.

This is why dairy farmers like Areias and others around the country give each calf an ear tag that dangles like an earring just moments after birth. Each tag has a number that serves as a lifelong identification of the cow.

The process is no different than a person getting their ear pierced, Areias said.

“The calf’s ear skin is like the lobe of your ear,” Areias said. “There aren’t a lot of nerves in it and there’s no blood after the piercing takes place. It’s done very quickly and the calves hardly even flinch. They may wiggle their ear for a second but that’s it.”

From that point forward, farmers can track a variety of critical information about each member of their herd. The ear tag is the link to each calf’s lineage, which becomes beneficial for breeding purposes down the road.

The ear tag allows farmers to record a cow’s body temperature, health and medication history and even the composition of each cow’s milk. The number also lets farmers know when a cow has been fed to prevent overfeeding.

And for some farmers, the standard, plastic ear tag has gone high tech! Some tags automatically sync information, such as a cow’s body temperature or daily movements, to a computer.

But, that’s technology for another day for Areias who is quite comfortable with her farm’s identification process. She figures the system comes into play at least once or twice a day when her family’s farm welcomes a newborn to the herd.

“In a sense the tag is like a birth certificate. But my birth certificate is stuck in a file in my house somewhere,” she said. “I look at it once every 10 years. Our cows wear a tag every day of their life. These are Holstein cows and they’re all black and white, but they’re all individual animals that have individual needs. Without that ear tag, we won’t know who’s who.

“That tag is very important to dairy farmers. It’s just a speck of the things we do to make sure our cows have the care and attention they need to have a healthy life.”