The Moos Room™

Dr. Joe discussed why we need to do a better job as a team (parents, 4H educators, veterinarians, etc.) to check tattoos early and honestly. Dr. Joe reviews his process for how to tattoo an animal and have it last for life.

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Hosted by members of the University of Minnesota Extension Beef and Dairy Teams, The Moos Room discusses relevant topics to help beef and dairy producers be more successful. The information is evidence-based and presented as an informal conversation between the hosts and guests.

[cow mooing] [music]
Joe Armstrong: What is up everybody? This is Dr. Joe Armstron. Again, we are stuck with just me today. Why is that? Well, today, the day we're recording this, it is the first day of state fair. First day of state fair is full of stuff to do for a lot of the educators. Extension is busy and active at the fair. That includes my colleagues, Bradley and Emily. On top of that, Bradley is also there as a parent and we all know being at the fair as a parent, probably the most stressful job there is at the fair. Fortunately, I've got a few years to worry about that. My oldest is three, not quite time to have to worry about that. For me, it's coming though probably faster than I realize.
Next week, it's still going to be fair on Thursday, so we're trying to figure out if we can get together or not. I'm really hoping you're not stuck with me another week. I apologize if that ends up being the case. All right, today we're going to talk about a couple different things, but the main topic is going to be something I saw yesterday. Yesterday, on Wednesday, the day before the fair, I was checking in animals, checking ages on animals, looking for basically have their adult teeth come in yet and which ones are in. That tells me exactly how old or gives me an approximate age on cattle. No problems yesterday. I'm really proud of everyone for not having any animals that were too old. Really nice to see that we're all on the same page. Everyone's following the rules.
The other thing that happened yesterday that I'm always proud of and I'm always amazed by is how many people volunteer their time to make sure that they're trying to give these kids the best experience they can have. Everyone that helped at the chute yesterday came together on the hottest day of the year by far, sweated, put in the hard work all to make these kids experience be as good as possible. Thank you to the volunteers. Thank you for everyone at the chute yesterday. Definitely doesn't go unnoticed and I wish that everyone would say thank you more to those people around the chute that are volunteering their time to be there and make sure that that experience is great for these kids.
Now, what did come up yesterday that bugs me a little bit and actually that's the wrong thing to say. It doesn't bug me a little bit. It bugs me a lot. I'm going to put it out there. Maybe it's controversial. I'm happy to take any scathing rebuttals or comments or questions on this topic, We had a real hard time reading a lot of tattoos. Now tattoos are very important for registered animals at the fair and we need them to be legible and we need to be able to read them correctly and it has to match the paperwork so that we can correctly identify animals.
We had a couple situations yesterday where we just couldn't read the tattoo. Now that puts our 4-H in a really bad spot, especially at the state fair, they've already made it there. They're thinking about, maybe I can get placed really high, maybe I can do really well at the fair. Then because that tattoo is not legible, it's impossible to read. We have to take a lot of that away and that results in a kid that's extremely disappointed, kind of blindsided by it.
That's what I think bugs me so much about this is that we've had opportunities to catch this several times and then we build this kid up to come to state fair and then we rip them down. This should have been caught earlier. There's a lot of places that it could have been caught, county fair being one. Any junior national shows, they should be checking tattoos. If they're not, I think that's a disservice to these kids, parents. Some of it's on us too, to say, "Hey, let's look and make sure that we can read this tattoo and take care of it if we don't."
4-H educators, some of it's on them too, and our other local extension educators to just say, "Hey, we need to be checking these tattoos." Veterinarians, I can't leave them out of the loop either. If you're at the county fair, you're helping check animals in, you got to read the tattoos and they got to be legible. No one wants to say no to a budding 4-Her who's really excited to show their animal and then say, "I can't read that tattoo, and that's a problem because I can't correctly identify this animal and make sure that it's the correct animal."
No one wants to say no, but I would much rather say no to this kid at the county fair and not give them any false hope by letting that tattoo slide, knowing that it's probably going to get called out at state fair or at another level. We can handle it much more quietly at the county fair, less people involved, most likely better chance that the family's actually going to be there.
That's the other thing that bugged me is that there's a lot of chaperones that are at the fair and they're amazing, but when something that serious happens and you find out that you're not going to be able to win because we can't correctly identify your animal, you got to have your parents there. That's the people you want to be there as your support system when something like that happens. That's more likely to be the case at the county fair.
I know I'm on a huge soapbox here and that's fine there. The biggest thing is that it's not the kid's job. They can be involved. They have to learn to be an advocate for themselves, but it's not their job to make sure that everything's straight. That's on parents, veterinarians, extension educators, whether it's 4-H or local educators, it's on us to make sure that everyone is checking that tattoo appropriately and it's actually legible before we send this kid up all built up to then be torn down at state fair. Big long rant. The point being, we need to check this tattoo before they get to state fair. It needs to be legible.
That leads me to my actual topic today, which is how do we tattoo? Where did I learn to tattoo? I don't feel I learned how to tattoo appropriately until I went out west and I was exposed to how important it is to have a great tattoo going in that ear when we Bangs vaccinate, or we vaccinate for Brucellosis. It is worth a ton to have a legible shield in that ear indicating that that animal has been Bangs vaccinated. Every breeding-age animal in the barns when I was out in Montana is checked for a shield. If they do not have a legible shield, they are heavily discounted because they can't go certain places, they can't cross state lines without that in place and they take a huge discount.
The guys out there taught me how to tattoo appropriately and how to do it well because it's just worth a ton of money out there to do it extremely well. Some of these cows, if they're going to be sold eight to 10 years later, that tattoo still has to be legible. That's who I'm giving credit to, the guys in the sale barn at Billings Livestock Commission. I want to make this clear, not the veterinarian, the guys working the chute, the guys working the head, working for the veterinarian. Those are the guys that know how to do it the best. Those are the guys that taught me how to do it.
When we tattoo, I think the biggest thing that's missed is cleaning the ear, getting the grease off the ear. Ears are greasy. I think we can all agree on that. If you've worked with cattle enough and you've tried to tattoo before, there's a lot of grease and wax and dirt and everything on that ear. You can think you're cleaning it pretty good and it's still not clean enough. Alcohol is the answer. We want alcohol in the mix. Some degreasing agent to get that ear actually all the way clean. I just realized what I said and I got to make sure that everyone's clear. The alcohol is isopropyl alcohol that's going on the ear. You can drink a beer while you're doing this, that's just fine, but that's not the alcohol I want in the mix when we're talking about tattooing well.
The way that I've done it in the past when we're really cranking them through the chute and doing it fast, but doing it very well is we have two cups. I've got a cup with tattoo ink and I've got a cup with alcohol. Each one has a toothbrush, a soft-bristled toothbrush. First thing through the chute, first thing you do, you get up there, you get the big chunks of debris off of that ear. We're trying to get all the big stuff off with a towel or something similar. Then I'm grabbing my toothbrush that's sitting in the alcohol and I'm going to scrub the rib of the ear or the space I'm going to put my tattoo and then I'm going to wipe that clean.
That is going to take the grease and all the nastiness off. I'm going to pick my spot appropriately so it doesn't have any hair in the way. That's really something that gets in the way quite frequently is if you have too much hair in a spot you're trying to tattoo and you get too close to the edge where there's just too much hair, that's going to interfere a lot. Pick a good spot with no hair, scrub it with alcohol, then wipe that clean so there's no alcohol there.
Then I'm coming back with my green toothbrush, the one that's sitting in the tattoo ink and I'm putting a good layer of tattoo ink in that spot that I scrubbed with alcohol. Then I'm taking my pliers and I'm going to carefully place them right wherever my tattoo ink in the very clean, nice area I created, and I'm going to squeeze in one fast motion so it doesn't move around and you don't get doubled up numbers or anything. Quickly squeeze and squeeze really hard and you're going to squeeze way harder than you think you need to because you want that tattoo ink driven in deep.
Now, the key that I think gets missed a lot, and this is where the toothbrush is really necessary, is after you're done squeezing, you pull those pliers, you go back to your toothbrush that's sitting in the tattoo ink, and then you're using that toothbrush to scrub more ink into the holes you just created with your tattoo pliers. You've just driven tattoo ink in. You've created a hole that needs to heal. When that heals, I want there to be tattoo ink in that hole. To ensure that, I'm going to scrub it again with this toothbrush and make sure that I've got plenty of ink in those holes that I left with my tattoo pliers. Now if this is done right, this tattoo's going to last for life.
Now, when you have a 4-H animal that's really cooperative and you can take your time, I think if you follow these steps and you really slow it down and you squeeze hard enough with your pliers, it's going to create an excellent tattoo. I see guys out West running this system create excellent tattoos and they can do them incredibly fast. We're talking between 50 and 100 per hour, depending on what else is going on at the chute. These guys are fast and they're incredibly good. I trust them. I trust that system.
I think if you follow those steps and really take the time to make sure that ear is clean, pick your spot appropriately so there's not hair in the way. Utilize the toothbrush to really scrub the ear with alcohol first. Wipe that ear clean. Grab your other toothbrush that's in your tattoo ink, scrub tattoo ink in there, squeeze with the pliers. Then do not forget to come back with more tattoo ink and really load up those holes you just created with your tattoo pliers with more ink. You should create an excellent tattoo.
Last note before I get out of here. We have to check the ears for tattoos and make sure they're legible. Catch it early. Do not trust that whoever you bought this animal from did a good job with the tattoo. You can't do that. You got to check for yourself. You got to ask someone to check it for you, and that person needs to be honest about whether or not it's legible ideally before you get to the county fair, so you can get things straight before you get there. Then at the county fair, we got to check these ears. We actually have to do it and do it honestly so that we are not building these kids up to then get heartbreaking news at the state fair.
With that, comments, questions, scathing rebuttals, those go to That's Catch us on Twitter @UMNmoosroom and @UMNFarmSafety. Catch Bradley on Instagram @umnwcrocdairy. Check out the website, Thank you everybody for listening. I will catch you next week. Bye.
[00:13:15] [END OF AUDIO]