“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 9th grade English—somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 years ago…Even though it has been that long since I read Shakespeare’s famous play, every time that someone asks me “Anne, do you name your animals?” my mind immediately goes back to Juliet and her impassioned speech.
So, what is in a name—and, perhaps more importantly, how do I name my animals?
I had several readers last week ask me about animal identification. Most specifically, I was asked to explain the ear tags that my cattle wear. There were several pictures of ear tags in the video that I put up last week which sparked some great questions.
We use ear tags to identify our animals. We give them numbers instead of names. The lack of drama involved in giving a number to a calf would disappoint Mr. Shakespeare immensely; however, it is a very practical way for us to trace the performance of our animals. Many of my cattle are wearing three different ear tags.
The first is a tag that the calf is given at birth. This tag tells who the mother (cow) and father (bull) of the animal was, along with his birthdate. This information is important because it tells us the genetics of the calf. As we trace the calf from birth to harvest, we look at the efficiency of the animal’s growth performance (how easily does he grow and put on muscle), and also the quality of the beef that the animal produces at harvest time. Knowing the calf’s genetics allows us to select for bulls and cows that produce the most efficient and high quality animals. Identification through the use of an ear tag makes this logistically possible.
The second tag is a Process Verified Tag (PVP tag). It is a one-time use, tamper-resistant tag with a unique and non-repeatable number. This tag allows the animal to be eligible for specific niche markets (including foreign export), and verifies compliance with age and source documentation on the animal. For more information on PVP programs, you can go to http://processverified.usda.gov. All of the cattle that I currently have on my farm are USDA Age and Source Verified animals that are eligible for niche markets.
The third tag is a cowboy tag. This is a tag that we put in at the feed yard that helps my crew and I know which pen the animal belongs in. Each pen of animals has a unique cowboy tag with both a group number (which all of the animals in the pen share) and an individual number. The cowboy tag is very useful when checking health and making sure that each animal is in the correct pen. We have 24 different pens at the feed yard with almost 3000 animals in total on my farm—it is nice to have a cowboy tag to reference to make sure that all of the cattle are in the correct home pen.
Fortunately, cattle have pretty large ears so there is enough room for them to wear three different tags at the same time. Having multiple tags also ensures that we never loose the identification of an animal. Sometimes an ear tag will fall out, but since all of my animals are wearing more than one tag and all of the tags are cross-referenced together, their identity is not lost. When my animals ship to harvest, it is mandatory that each one of them have a PVP tag. In fact, when they arrive at the packing plant, a USDA inspector is present to make sure that each one has their unique PVP identification so that they can remain eligible for niche markets.
The short answer to the question is that there is a lot in a name–especially if you are talking about the identity of a food animal! Animal identification is important for quality control, food safety, and the consistent measurement and improvement of animal performance.
Hopefully I was successful in answering your questions!