Introduction: How to Tag Calves Properly

Tagging Calves with ear tags is the best way to make them easily identifiable. Throughout my many years of being a farm and ranch hand, I tagged a lot of calves. Have you ever wondered how farmers identify which cow is the calves mother? I will explain to you in 5 different steps how to tag a calf properly. I am very experienced in this field of work and have been doing this for years.


Before beginning to tag calves, collect what is needed in order to complete the job. Materials include tags, an ear tagger, and a permanent marker in order to write on the tags. Tagging calves can be very dangerous. A lot of the time the mother cow tends to get very hostile when humans are around their calf. For this reason, having someone else there is always a good idea in case something were to happen.

Step 1: Writing Out the Tag

Before approaching the cow and calf, have the tag that will be used written out and put into the ear tagger. This will prevent having to worry about this later on in the process. Tags need to be written very neatly in order to be able to read them when the calf is no longer close.

Step 2: Putting the Tag on the Tagger

It is very important to put the tag on the tagger the correct way so that the tagging process goes fast. Putting the tag on the tagger backwards is a very common mistake that people, including myself, make countless times. In the picture below, you will see the correct way that it should be put in the tagger so that the writing is facing outwards. Making sure that the tag is pushed all the way onto the tagger is another common mistake that many people make. If it is not all the way on the tagger, it may fall off while trying to approach the calf and that causes the process to take even more time.

Step 3: Approaching the Cow and Calf

When beginning the tagging process, don’t rush up on the cow and calf. This will cause them to run away and overall make the process a lot more difficult. Instead, approach the cow and calf slow and steady. If the calf Is laying down then it is possible to walk right up to it. If the calf is standing with its mother the process may be more difficult. If the calf is in the barn like the one in the video below then pushing it into a corner to secure it while tagging it is the most professional way of handling the situation.

This is a video of me trying to approach the calf without hurting or startling it. This process would once again be a lot more difficult if the calf was not in a barn and more force might be needed if you were not inside of a barn in order to control the calf.

Step 4: Tagging the Calf

Once you have approached the calf, it is time to tag the calf. In order to tag the calf, there should be a safe distance between yourself and the cow. To get the cow and calf separated, use a four-wheeler or have another person along who will distract the cow. In order to contain the calf I usually straddle the calf between my legs or hold it in a corner with help from another person in order to prevent it from going anywhere. Insert the tag into the whichever ear you prefer by squeezing the tagger like it is a pair of scissors. By squeezing the tagger it is putting a whole through the calves ear and putting the tag in. For that reason, making sure not to hit the calves veins inside of their ears is very important because it causes a lot of bleeding and unnecessary pain for the calf. For the calf, getting an ear tag is comparable to having your ears pierced but a lot worse. For that reason, it is very common for a calf to be very tense and distressed during the process, though I do do my best to keep them relaxed.

In this Video I demonstrate how to tag a Calf in an enclosed pen that is inside of a barn. This is a lot easier then tagging a calf in a wide open pasture. There are many different places and situations where a calf might need a tag but I chose to do demonstrate how to tag a calf in a barn because it is the most common situation on our farm.

Step 5: Monitoring the Cow and Calf Over Time

After you have tagged the calf, get away from the calf so that the mother cow will go back to the calf. When finished with these steps, be sure to monitor the cow and calf over the next few days. Cows may decide not to mother the calf or the tag placed may fall out. Do not stay around the calf for too long or the cow may run off and take awhile to come back or not come back at all. If the cow does run off then often times bottle feeding is required in order for the calf to get the milk it needs to get stronger. Tags can also fall out, meaning your right back to where you started. This is why it is important that you properly apply the tag all the way through the calves ear.