Tagging calves calls for respect

Cows have maternal instincts, so handling them with the utmost respect when tagging calves normally pays off.

Studies into livestock accidents suggest that up to 24% of producers suffer an injury each year, says Health and Safety Executive inspector Tony Mitchell.

“And when you have had one injury, you are three times more likely to have another.”

To avoid accidents, cattle should be handled in proper facilities that are well maintained, but many farms still make do with makeshift handling facilities that increase the risk of injury, he says.

Tagging calves will invariably raise the dams’ protective instincts, so at least two people should be present when handling facilities are not available, says Mr Mitchell.

But he does accept that with staff numbers gradually declining on many units, carrying out many everyday tasks such as calf-tagging can be a problem.

“In such cases, it may be advisable to get together with a neighbour to carry out tasks safely and effectively and, in time, to meet British Cattle Movement Service registering dates.”

Tagging calves early on in their lives is key to a stress- and injury-free tagging process, reckons Galashiels-based suckler producer Wilbert Girvan.

Calving cows are checked twice a day and calves are tagged just after they are born, he says.

“We take the tractor with a quad bike trailer on the back and calves are picked up and placed in the trailer for tagging and recording.

Their mothers follow the calf in the trailer into the appropriate field, where they run in groups of up to 30 cows.”

The trailer acts as protection from the cow, although Mr Girvan and his son Scott have worked hard to make sure temperament is not a big problem in their 210-cow pedigree Luing herd.

And because of that quiet nature, about half the calves born at Buckholm Farm are caught and tagged without needing the trailer.

“After a couple of hours, the cow will wander off and we can quietly go up to the calf and tag it before she notices,” he says.

But he advises producers not to leave it more than 24 hours before tagging, or they may have trouble catching the calves and moving the cow.