I'll admit that with our first goats, cows, and sheep, I didn't like having tags in their ears. I could recognize the individual animals without problem, so they didn't seem to have a meaningful purpose for me. However, I now regularly tag all of my animals, most with two, and I feel I have justified reasons.
I have explored different identification options for animals. Tattoos are pretty common. All of my female cattle and registered Angus are tattooed, but it's not something you can see through their fur. Same with some of my original registered goats. I could make out the tattoo in the white sheep, but that's probably about it, and it would still involve looking carefully to make it out. When I have dozens of identical little goat babies or sixty lambs, I need something easy to see.
I used colored collars, which works well for smaller groups. I had little adjustable collars for lambs and kids that matched their mothers, but then I have to have duplicates with many animals. I had tags on the collars for the sheep and goats, but they end up losing the collars or the tags, and I've tried many different attachments. They also present the possibility that the animal will get hooked on something.
I have also tried colored bands, but they don't last that long. If using on lambs, I would have to replace them regularly or they will slowly strangle as they grow. I still use these temporarily, which are like the wristbands given out for theme park and fair admissions but longer. I color-code my ewes and does in the fall so I know which ram or buck she will be bred to. If I have girls who are lactating but her milk needs to be kept separate for some reason like illness or personal use, I can put a band on her leg or neck so she's still milked, but milked last into a different pail.
Ear tags seem like the solution, and I've gotten used to them. First, there are two that are used to comply with governmental programs used to contain devastating diseases: brucellosis and scrapie. All of our female cattle are brucellosis vaccinated after weaning and before their first birthday. The veterinarian does this and puts a metal tag in their left ear and a tattoo. This shows they are vaccinated, which is required to sell the cattle.
Sheep and goats are all given a scrapie ("scrape-ee") tag when they are very young. They are small metal tags with my herd number and an individual animal number. At first, I dreaded tagging my little ones, but it was much less traumatic than I feared. It was less severe than tattooing. They definitely jump when I do it, and maybe 20% of them cry out (poor babes), but they forget about it right away. They don't even need to comfort-nurse on their mothers. They're bouncing around again as little pirate babies (one silver hoop-like earring). Scrapie is a contagious fatal disease without vaccination or treatment. These tags are used to trace the infection among animals and farms in hopes of preventing outbreaks.
The information on the metal tags is small, and I need an easy way to identify our animals without having to get up close to read it. For the ones I plan to keep past weaning, I also put a farm tag on them. This tag has their number and their name. All cattle get this the day they are born. The sheep and goats get it with their weaning vaccines unless they are being sold.
Farm tags can easily be removed. I've done it with twine cutters or pruning shears, which I keep for hoof trimming. Sometimes the twine cutter pinches their ear against the tag, which they act like is uncomfortable. I prefer the pruning shears. The stem of the tag that passes through the ear is usually longer than the ear is thick, so I gently press the front and back of the tag together, which is painless. When I do that, I can cut the back of the tag on the outside, and this usually takes off the piercing tip (like cutting the head off an arrow), allowing me to painlessly remove the tag from their ear just as if it were a stud earring. Scrapie and brucellosis tags should not be removed ... and I'm not sure how to do it.
I have removed farm tags. When I bought my first cattle, I wanted them marked with my farm tags, so I replaced them. I also had a sheep that developed an infection around her farm tag, so I took it out and treated the wound. It healed up nicely and I re-tagged her through the same hole without any problem.
Because the animals have two tags, if they lose one, I still have a way of being sure who I'm working with. If I have a dozen white ewe lambs born one spring and one of them loses her farm tag during the summer, I can confirm her identity from her scrapie tag so I don't accidentally breed her back to her father or brother. I can also see who all the other white sheep are and determine her identity through a process of elimination, but that can take a while and isn't that beneficial if more than one sheep looses her tag. Then it gets tricky - watching who she groups with inside the herd usually helps me identify a mother or sister, but sometimes not. Tagging is MUCH easier.
Unless there is an infection, the animals don't seem to care about small ear tags once they are in. They certainly hurt when they are given them, but they seem to not care immediately after. They are very forgiving, especially with a little apology of grain. Aside from planning breeding, tags help me track family genetics for qualities I like such as good milk production or easy birthing, document illnesses or injuries of certain animals to pick up on any patterns, and identifies the animals for annual labs and tuberculosis screening. If someone is farm-sitting or even within my family and they notice a potential problem while I am gone, they can easily tell me who it is they are talking about. I find it to be the most reliable way of tracking who is who when I have a lot of individuals who look very similar.
Wife to Brandon, mother to Tess and Liam, farmer, entrepreneur, cook & baker, nurse, and accountant who loves to try new things, travel, and work toward greater self-reliance.