Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

The wikiguide on how not to tag a calf

All calves need ear tags. This means inserting a plastic rivet with identification numbers through the baby’s hairy ear. The animal will carry the tag for life and be recorded by this number for any operation – veterinary, movements, breeding, and ultimately death- perhaps as much as twenty years down the road.
Anyone sensible, with animals close to hand, tags calves shortly after birth – basically before they have a clue what is happening. I tag them after the first week – the most fragile period in a new life. Only when confident that they are feeding properly, have no infections, a proper moral commitment to support the farm by surviving, and a robust physical approach to life in the open air – do I risk their first one-on-one intervention with a human being. The benefit of this is that baby will be much stronger in its second week; the downside is that baby will be much stonger in the second week.
Abby’s baby is due for tagging. He is lying inside the calf enclosure insulated by the hale bale opened like a sheltering wing in the north eastern corner of the shed. This is accessed by a creep gate – the babies can walk through full height but too low for the adults.
I load two taggers, lure Abby out into the yard and corner him in the creep. He starts to panic, bleating like a goat calling to Abby who responds with guttural roars but is safely separated by two gates. I hold him between my knees as he tries to squueze out through a corner, feel the papery skin of his ear for the prominent veins and catch a bare patch with the prong of the tagger, squeezing hard. The tang pierces the ear, connecting with the socket in the companion tag the other side, but the tagger, used for the first time of the year, doesn’t release.
This is where things start to go wrong…
As I free the tagger, the calf runs to the far side of the enclosure. I usher it away from the aperture leading to the open air and catch it in the corner. I have dropped the second tagger: it is lying in the hay where I fixed the first tag. I cannot reach it and hold on to the calf. I steer the calf back over, pick up the device – prepare to clamp – Uh – oh – only one tag in the machine. The other one has dropped off – somewhere in the enclosure. Baby takes advantage of the distraction to leg it outdoors.
I chase it round the paddock for the next ten minutes. feed the others inside in case it will follow, hunt it round the feeder like kids round the mulberry bush, contemplate rugby tackling it (but the floor of the hardstanding is 2 inches deep slurry by this time- too rich even for my stomach), trap it against the fence – but the wire is slack and it wriggles through.
Finally I give up and return Abby to her son before any of us gets too traumatised.
There must be an easier way to make an idiot of myself –
-actually chasing a two week old calf round a muckfilled yard is pretty good for that.
Hope the rest of the day goes better …dunno though..


One thought on “The wikiguide on how not to tag a calf

  1. B says:

    just came across this one. How very human the story is! Ah yes, making a fool of myself – let me count the ways….. mortification happens from time to time – it is the recovery from it which can be more of the challenge. Not brave enough to blog about these however as there is always the trap of attachment/further mortification etc – so I pray that i have got over these moments – but perhaps the recovery is only skin deep ! And now full circle – back to tagging once more

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