Is Tagging Calves a Good Idea?
We need to constantly challenge the management practices we do on the ranch, to make sure they still make sense. As business management guru Edwards Demming (who lived in Powell, WY) said, “It is not necessary to change, survival is not mandatory.”
Since calving season is in full swing across most of cow country, I thought I’d challenge the common belief that we must tag our calves to be good managers. Sure, there are reasons why tagging calves makes sense. But it does come at a cost in labor, stress to animals and risk to the people. I’m not telling you not to tag, but rather challenging you to evaluate the practice.
I will start by relating an experience I had recently. I was facilitating a family ranch business meeting, there were some extremely important things that needed to be done to keep this large family business on track. Those involved had correctly identified these major issues that needed to be completed in the next few months. I asked what the value of getting these things done for the ranch business was. One member suggested $500,000 another said it could be $1,000,000; either way there was significant value at play. I sensed some apprehension by the family members that the things they identified would actually get done. I asked, “What is going to get in the way of making this happen?”. They said they were headed into an extremely busy time for the ranch. Calving, moving heavies, checking cows, tagging calves, etc. would consume them for the next 2-3 months.
Then I inquired, “What would happen if you didn’t check a single cow, and didn’t tag a single calf? Would they all die? How many might you save by being there? What would be the economic cost to the business, of not doing these things that are distracting you from doing what you identified as extremely high value tasks?” Of course, not all the calves would die, and the cows don’t need ear tags in the calves to know which calf is theirs. Sure, there might be a few calves lost due to our lack of attention, but I think we tend to overestimate our ability to save calves at calving. Sometimes our involvement just screws stuff up. This becomes even more true if calves are born in warmer weather.
The point of this is not that you shouldn’t tag your calves, or that you shouldn’t check your cows at calving but rather that you need to challenge yourself to make sure you are spending your time doing the highest value tasks for your business. As Steven Covey points out in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it is easy to be so busy doing the urgent tasks, that the important tasks go undone.
Are there important tasks that are going undone in your business because you are so busy with the urgent? I recommend completing your economic plan for 2020, as that is an important task that should have been taken care of by now. What is your expected economic profit for this coming year? I bet most of your neighbors are too busy checking cows and tagging calves to bother putting together an economic plan for 2020. Don’t be like your neighbors. Don’t be so busy with the urgent, that the important gets neglected.