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AMY KIRK: Eartag extra credit

Amy Kirk, Daily Republic Columnist  It may seem silly, but eartag reading is regarded as a highly praised skill in a ranch wife. Getting a cow’s number is a big deal for me because it’s not always that simple.

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What’s most impressive is anytime I read a cow’s eartag number under difficult circumstances. I receive “helluva hand” praise if I miraculously get a cow’s number when the cow is on the run, running me over, running away from me or is in the middle of a big bunch of cows gathered in a corral for sorting, and particularly if I get her number without my reading glasses. Sometimes the goal is not to find out what number is on a cow’s eartag, but to find the cow with a particular number. During sorting, finding a specific eartag number is sometimes more challenging.

Noticing anything unusual about an individual cow is a necessary skill every ranch wife should have, which for the average ranch woman is probably impressive enough, but I’m married to a very detail-oriented spouse. If I want to impress my husband and be considered a highly skilled eartag reader, I have to have answers ready for his extra credit questions. Noticing small details is not something he expects from me, and getting a cow’s eartag number is not enough. He comes up with all these bonus questions about a cow I’m telling him that I saw was lame or had a developing abscess or something he might not know about.

I’m worthy of cow-identification praise when I remember to get a cow’s eartag number AND I’ve read the number correctly. But when I’m really on top of my game, I take note of as many details as possible about the cow I discover with a problem.

Extra identifiable cow-referencing tips are opportunities to prove to my hubby that I do pay attention, even if these circumstances usually present themselves by accident — eg: I was at the water tank when she came to drink or I drove by her, not because I was actively looking.

Getting details requires a lot of effort for me because it takes complete, one-tracked focusing. To score extra points with my hubs I need to 1) Note additional identifiable features of the cow according to her behavior, facial markings (although facial features is difficult on all-black cows), or memorable run-ins we’ve experienced with her in the past; 2) How severe the problem is; 3) Which side of the cow’s body the issue is on if it’s lameness or a health problem; 4) Noticeable symptoms; 5) What day it was when this discovery occurred; and 6) Physical location where I discovered the cow — all legitimate information my rancher is likely to question me about.

In times of intense focus, I also note what I was doing at the time of discovery and the status of the salt, lick tubs, mineral feeder and water tanks at the time of discovery, which I’ve been questioned on before. Most importantly, I try to write the eartag number on the top of my hand since I don’t recall numbers from memory very well and don’t want to forget to tell the hubs when I get home.

The downside to becoming a master eartag reader and remembering to tell my husband all the details right away is when he says, “Yeah, I saw her a few days ago and took care of it, didn’t I tell you?”

— Amy Kirk and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle. She blogs at