Only 20-25% of cattle producers like to keep records, according to Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist. However, Cole says there is a financial incentive to keep very complete production records on beef cow-calf operations. The incentive is significant for those with age- and source-verified feeder calves.

The amount of the premium varies, but could be from $20-$35/head at harvest. At least that’s the premium offered by some packers. “The export market in particular wants beef from cattle with age and source information. It’s not that much trouble to identify cows and calves with tags or brands and the cost is minimal considering the expected returns,” Cole says.

Producers not retaining ownership-to-harvest records will have to search out feeder-calf markets or feedlots that may offer higher calf prices for calves with trace-back potential. “Just putting ear tags in a set of calves could send a positive message to the buyers on the seats that these calves have been handled. That means not only are ages possibly known, but there’s a chance they’ve had some vaccinations given to them,” Cole says.

Not only do owners need the ear tag to prove the calves’ age, but the paperwork must be available on birthdates and cow identification so in case of an audit, the info can be proven.

“Tagging and birthdate recording is just the right thing to do, whether it’s for the premium or just for management and breeding purposes,” Cole says.