Tagging cattles’ ears for identification purposes has been a practice for over a hundred years. This system allows ranchers and farmers to identify cattle quickly and avoid having to memorize coat patterns or behaviors to recognize different animals. Although there’s no universal tagging system for cattle, there’s a lot of information you can take in from a simple ear tag.

Here are what different tags mean and how to recognize them.

Tags for Calves

These tags are easier to spot for a couple of obvious reasons. First, ear tags for calves are often smaller. They can still hold a lot of information on them, but they’re generally one color and one size for most calves. The numbers on their tags will usually state what cow they came from and what year or date they were born. Calve tags will have most of the same information that larger cattle have, but on a smaller label to not tear it off or hurt themselves.

Tagging at this age is important because it allows cattle to get used to the sensation of something on their ear so that they won’t fuss with it when they’re older.

Tags for Heifers and Bulls

Most farms keep multiple colors available for different years and try to keep a difference between the tags used on heifers and bulls. Although there’s no national go-to for color cataloging, most farms will keep different sizes or colors between the two sexes.

Some farms go for larger tags for bulls or apply the label to a different ear for males than females. Although you could easily look to check if cattle are steers or cows, it’s simpler to have tags easily viewable to tell the difference at a glance.

How to Tell The Age

Most cattle tags are color organized by year. Since the average cattle only stay on a farm for ten years, most cattle ear tags rotate in color or number every ten to fifteen years. This ensures that the owners can tell how old cattle are at a glance and make informed decisions. Knowing the age can also inform when they want to attempt to get calves from a cow or when they may be too old to calve anymore.

Which Farm or Property They Belong To

This is an easy mark you can see at the top of most cattle ear tags. Most of these will include a signature or stamp that says the name of the property the cattle come from and possibly even include a phone number if the animal has left the property. Although not every farm includes this information on their tags, it makes it easier to track and makes livestock theft a little more difficult.

Ear tags are a newer tradition that makes a lot of cattle ranching and farming easier on their owners. Although there are many variants of tags out there, a good eye can stop the difference and meaning in most of them.