Which eartags will you clip on this year’s calves?

Joy Ufford photo

With calving under way in many parts of the West, here in the western part of Wyoming ranchers are trying to plow down to bare ground and pile up feet of snow with winter not yet abated.

One distinct advantage to this snow depth is that is can be shaped into tall, wide berms to relieve cattle from the March winds – and April showers – except for those idiosyncratic mamas who prefer to hide deep in the willows or the field’s far-opposite corner for privacy while they calve.

Some ranchers and cowboys automatically fit new calves with handwritten eartag numbers that match the mother cow’s number. Perhaps a different color for each year’s crop.

Others might notch every calf’s ear with the same marking used for all livestock in the herd receiving the same brand in a month or two.

Some are prepared to dive into newer technology – or did so years ago– and fit each calf with its uniquely coded electronic identification eartag. If you are a computer whiz or lucky enough to get a steady signal, this might be just the ticket for your operation.

The USDA has for years tried to convince livestock producers this electronic tag is the way to go, in large part for disease traceability. Now the USDA’s proposed rule awaits relevant comments about using “electronic identification eartags as official identification in cattle and bison.”

On Jan. 19, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published the eartag rule and opened a 60-day comment period to close March 20. It’s possible the news passed many local producers by as they work all day, every day to feed, water and doctor their cattle before “spring” calving.

On March 15, the Wyoming Delegation of U.S. Sens. John Barrasso, Cynthia Lummis and Rep. Harriet Hageman wrote USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him to extend the March 20 comment period deadline by at least 30 days.

First, they noted that the “proposed traceability rule would only apply to about 11 percent of the United States’ cattle herd. However, should APHIS ultimately move forward with adopting the rule, its implementation would not impact all states equally.”

Wyoming has a different reality, they said.

“Wyoming, for example, has very little in the way of in-state slaughter or confined feeding capacity. The overwhelming majority of Wyoming’s cattle are raised on the open range. When producers are ready to sell their stock, especially if they are selling to a feeder or directly to a slaughterhouse, a significant number of Wyoming cattle are sold and shipped out-of-state. They are sent to states located in the Midwest and south-central regions of the country, where the majority of America’s feeding and slaughter capacities are located. This is particularly true of older cull cows and bulls, which are still sexually intact.

“Cattle producers in Wyoming are about to become very busy with calving season as the weather warms, and many simply do not have even a brief few minutes to spare to submit comments on the proposed rule. For these reasons, we request that the current comment period be extended an additional 30 days.”

On March 17, the USDA extended the comment period through April 19.

This doesn’t mean much around Sublette County, where ranchers closely balance spring calving with summer grazing turnout.

Still, those who feel strongly about this pending rule can take advantage of this federal reprieve to both read the document and submit comments at https://www.regulations.gov/document/APHIS-2021-0020-0001.



  • Western Landowners Alliance, March 21: Landowners, ranchers, NGOs and partners across the West are invited on March 30 at 11 a.m. to learn about the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program. Grassland CRP is a working lands program, available for owners and managers across the country. It is administered through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), providing ranchers with yearly payments for sustaining wildlife habitat while allowing livestock production activities to continue. Through the Big Game Pilot Partnership, the USDA is offering unique benefits to Grassland CRP for producers in Wyoming’s big game priority habitat areas. The webinar will be moderated by WLA’s Wyoming resource coordinator Shaleas Harrison. Contact her at [email protected].
  • USDA-APHIS, March 23: A diverse panel accepted USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack’s invitation to serve on the National Wildlife Services Advisory Committee. The 20 members, including four returning advisors, were named in early March. One returning advisor is Catherine Denise Urbigkit, Industry/Producers, Boulder, Wyoming.


  • From USDA Farm Service Agency, March 21: Agricultural operations in Wyoming, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota were significantly impacted by recent snowstorms. The USDAhas technical and financial assistance available to help farmers and livestock producers recover from these adverse weather events. Impacted producers should contact their local USDA Service Center to report losses and learn more about program options available to assist in their recovery from crop, land, infrastructure and livestock losses and damages. Visit https://www.fsa.usda.gov.