Cattle tracking is not just a means of staying on top of population trends for large-scale farmers, but more a way of making sure that the animals are safe, healthy and fit for reproduction, at all times, whatever the size of the herd.

Ear tagging beef cattle is a means of both tracking and tracing the animal. Calves are tagged so that they can be tracked as to which cow it belongs with. Cows are tagged so that they can be monitored as to their reproduction. For example, if a cow is open and does not get bred when it should have, then that cow is monitored closely the second year. If problems arise more than once, that cow might be one that needs to be thinned out of the herd. Ear tagging milk cows can be used to keep track and monitor milk production as well.


Both the seasoned cattle grazier and the self-sustaining smallholder can appreciate the need to be able to identify and select their cattle when culling or selling. But tagging the animals will also prevent unnecessary harm coming to them in the event that they become lost, minimize the number of casualties during a disease outbreak, and ultimately give ranchers some added peace of mind.

Much like getting your ears pierced, the process of tagging a cow takes little time and effort, but must be done carefully for the sake of the animal. Some extra care should also be taken after the cow has been tagged, to avoid infections and other complications. Below is a list of simple steps to be taken when tagging an animal, which can be applied by ranchers, 4-H and FFA enthusiasts, or just about any large animal owner.

1. Restrain or fasten the animal

It goes without saying that great care should be taken to prevent the cow from harming you or itself. Place the animal in a chute with a head gate, then secure its head with a halter, lead, or nose ring to the gate. If it’s a calf or a smaller animal, simply hoist it to its side and pin its neck while applying the tag.

2. Find the right spot for the tag

Tags should be placed in the middle of the ear, between its upper and lower ribs. There are various types of tags, but the most convenient are the 2-piece systems, which come in different colors, are inexpensive and are very simple to use. Make sure that you’ve marked your tags with permanent ink before moving on.

3. Disinfect the ear, the tag and the applicator

As you would with any skin surface undergoing a medical procedure, make sure the ear is clean. Some alcohol or disinfectant will do, and you only need to rub it in gently for a few seconds. Then rub the applicator and the tags using different cotton swabs. Repeat for every animal.

4. Pierce the ear

Insert the panel stud into the pin on the applicator jaw, and slide the button in the clip opposite. The button should be facing the inside of the ear, and the panel stud should pierce through from the outside of the ear. Before pressing, check that the applicator jaws align. Simply bring them together without squeezing, to check that the stud is aligned with the center of the button. Once you’ve checked the applicator, simply close it quickly and firmly until you hear a loud click, and then release it.

5. Final check

After you’ve tagged the ear, gently pull at the tag to see that it is fastened securely. You can place another tag or button in the other ear, as well. Then check the applicator and replace the pin, if need be.
Once a tag is applied, it should stay in place for years. There are various types of tagging systems. With an electronic identification system (EID) or a radio frequency ID system (RFID), tags are applied similarly, but they can be flag-shaped or button-shaped, and made of plastic or metal. Which of these you use is completely up to you.