Calf Taggin’ Shenanigans 3/6/2014

After each calf is born, we tag and vaccinate it (for information on the vaccination we give, please see Vaccinations 2/19/2014). Every ranch has its own methods for identification and means of applying it. We use basic Z-Tags, which are in one piece (some have two pieces, the tag itself, and then the button, I didn’t like these because buttons can fall off the tagger and get lost at the most inopportune moments).

Some points about our tagging system:

Cattle are numbered at preg checking. The first digit in the tag is the last digit of the year they were born i.e. 025 was born in 2010, and was the 25th cow through the chute at preg checking.

Calves from cows get a yellow ear tag that has the same number as the cow so they can be easily identified as a pair (their number will change at preg check if they are selected as a replacement).


Calves from heifers get a white ear tag with only the last two digits of the heifer’s number.

Calves that specifically belong to my husband and I get blue tags.


The ear tags are applied with a tagging device that is provided through the same company. Sometimes our calves will lose their tags but we do the best to keep everything identified and re-tag as needed.

For information on ear tag placement in the ear, please see the following websites:

Z-Tag Application Instructions
Alberta Rural Development, Ear Tag Instructions

When we tag, one person does the tagging and vaccinating while the other person stands guard between the angry cow and her bawling calf with nothing but a shovel and a bluff. Most cows cooperate and 95% of the time the shovel never touches the cow. My husband is a pro at tagging quickly which is especially helpful with aggressive cows. Cows are given a score on their behavior for future references:
N- Nervous
VA-Very Aggressive

I take the role of protector. At my weight, there is no way I could take on an angry cow, that is where the bluff comes in. I have found the most effective way is to stand between the cow so she can see her calf still (this helps). As she moves on the outside, I slowly move on the inside. It’s important not to run because that will make the cow more excited. As she runs larger circles on the outside, I can easily calmly walk to block her in a shorter distance on the inside of the circle (calf and tagger in the middle).


If all you wanted to know was about calf tagging, you are welcome to stop reading now. If you want to hear about my emotionally scarring tagging experiences, please continue.

We’ve been behind schedule sorting heavies as my father in law threw his back out. The fall back has led to a couple calves being born in the meadow. Usually we tag them in the calving lot and for the most part cows are concerned about their new born, but easily fended off. The cows in the meadow know how much space they have out there and will run, making it hard to catch their calves. The meadow also makes good cows go bad.

When we drove out to tag one in the meadow today, the cow was already flagged in my book as being aggressive. When we got out of the pickup, she lowered her head and started kicking up dust. I was shaking in my little pink muck boots. As protector, I go into battle first (like a cowgirl marine, oorah) to separate her from her calf. My husband follows up and naps the calf and rolls it down as he sits on top of it.

The cow let out this ground trembling, low angry mroooooowaaaa (angry cow moo). She starts to move and I have to keep calm and move with her when my instinct says to run, I have to walk. She takes a dodge into me, thank goodness I have my shovel. I fend her off with a wonk (it gets worse if you miss, your wonks have to be accurate). My husband’s magic tagging skills pay off and in a short bit he yells “heifer” (this is the gender of the calf and concludes the tagging ceremony), my sign to clear out and run. Bellaring, she tromps in to console her calf. Sometimes at this point, when my blood is still pumping and I have a fear the cow is going to hunt me down to kill me on my way back to the pickup, my husband will sneak up behind me and do an angry cow moo as he pinches me. Not funny.

This was a success story of a very aggressive cow. I wish they all ended this way. Let us go back to an instance that has been an emotional scar for me long after the bruises disappeared.


The tagging that morning was going well in the calving lot. This was before I understood cow behavior. With new people, I find that is a good thing, because now that I’m experienced, I’m more likely to bail than stand my ground when the cow body language says “I call your bluff”.

The cow was number 630, a brockle faced old bos taurus that apparently had woken up on the wrong side of the hay row. We approached like normal and proceed to do our duties. Old 630 went mrrrrooooowwwwaing, and bucking, yes, side ways bucking, in circles as I attempted to keep up. A few digs into me were met with the backside of a shovel and I figured I had the upper hand when she stopped and starred me down. It was at this point where I didn’t realize the cow had developed a personal vendetta towards me and called my bluff. She took in after me head on and like an idiot, I stood my ground. I saw the deep blacks of her eye as her shoulder dug into mine and she flattened me like a pancake. The shovel was of no help as she trampled me. I rolled over and was crawling to my shovel to continue the fight as I saw her head butting my husband off her calf. Vaccine gun, tagger, and hat flying through the air, my husband took it like a man and curled up in the fetal position as the cow continued butting him into the ground. The calf took off and she ran to follow it. I dust myself off and run to my husband. Unscathed, he looks at me as I’m limping away and says, “Where were you?!”.

WHERE WAS I??? I WAS GETTING TRAMPLED! I have a lump and bruise on my leg the size of a lemon.

The cow proceeded on a rampage through the calving lot mauling any cow or calf that came within ten feet of her. She made and attack on the pickup, and the tractor when it came to feed.

Not to be defeated, we did return with a rope and the circus routine that followed was my husband trying to stand in the bed of the pickup while attempting to rope the calf (kinda like a redneck teenwolf) as I baja’d through the calving lot in hot pursuit. By the grace of God we roped the calf and pulled it into the pickup bed to finish the task we set out to do.

From this point tagging didn’t go as smooth as I realized some cows don’t care about little you and a dinky shovel. I was skiddish and fearful.

I solved this problem by taking home some lessons learned. When a cow is looking at her calf, you are pretty much safe. When she stops, and her wrathful eyes fixate on you, it’s time to yell to your spouse to abort mission.

Come fall 630 went to the sale barn. We don’t have time for those kinds of shenanigans.


One thought on “Calf Taggin’ Shenanigans 3/6/2014

  1. Pingback: Bad Bovine Hair Styles | Calving2014

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