With more than 400 wet calves on feed at any given time, the calf crew at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, Kewaunee, Wis., is comprised of workers who rotate among many different shifts. To communicate the needs of each individual calf, the workers leave health histories and instructions where it is easiest to serve the animals – right on their pens. 

Calf manager Shawn Miller says plastic ear tags are used to denote sickness and medical treatments and are attached with a plastic zip tie. Health histories are recorded directly on the tag with a black Sharpie marker. For example, a calf with a fever would be flagged with a tag indicating temping date, time and reading, plus any medical treatment it received. Using written treatment protocols, workers on the next shift then would know if and when that animal should receive follow-up treatment.

Cow leg bands are used to indicate calves that are in the dairy’s gradual weaning process. A white band attached to the pen instructs that the calf should be fed only once a day (morning only). An orange band indicates that the calf is weaned from milk and should receive grain and water only. The plastic bands are reusable and are sanitized between uses.

The marking system has been extremely successful at promoting consistent care and eliminating errors, according to herd manager Chris Szydel. “Both the bands and tags are durable and water-resistant, and it’s easy to train workers to recognize what they represent,” he says. “These inexpensive tools are a huge help in allowing us to deliver the best possible care to every calf.”