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California ranchers are unhappy that the federal government wants to replace branding cattle with electronic chips placed in cattle’s ears. The chips make a lot of sense on many levels. It’s not the 19th century anymore. It’s also far less cruel to the animals. But people are moaning about the dying West. Then again, the West has been dying ever since it was discovered in the 1880s. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, The Virginian, early conservation laws, the western, the writings of Edward Abbey, etc., have all bemoaned a lost West. Of course, cowboys still exist by the thousands, even though their very dangerous labor is forgotten about by the larger society. I’ve driven around the West multiple times with people whose jaws drop upon seeing a real life cowboy. But Western development has always used the most modern technology masked with a veneer of rustic romanticism–mining technology, dams and the incredibly sophisticated water systems that allow western cities to grow, logging, agribusiness. Cowboying too, especially in the 21st century.

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  • LKS

    Maybe I’m misreading this, but I didn’t get the impression this was an either-or thing. I.e., a rancher could both brand and ear-tag livestock.

    • I don’t think they are looking to outlaw branding, but there’s not too much point to it if you have the ear tag. Maybe if you are still running your cattle on national forest land.

  • Michael H Schneider

    West has been dying ever since ….

    – those damn Athabaskan speakers moved into the Southwest and destroyed the property values

    – those Chacoans from Mexico moved in and ….

    – those Clovis point hunters drove all the megafauna away and …

    • Walt

      The third one is so funny that I’m stealing it.

  • Ranchers, particularly big ranchers, were early adopters of barbed wire to separate their herds from their neighbors and not incidentally roving cowboys who thought little of rounding a few unbranded cattle off the range and driving them off to sell.

  • Redbeard

    Soon, the Skull and Bones society of Yale will begin putting tags in the ears of pledges…

    • Warren Terra

      More likely the Skull And Bones members will put tags in the ears of their personal assistants, domestic servants, and other assorted serfs an villeins.

  • owlbear1

    There is nothing quite like the smell of burning hair nor the sound of squalling calves in the morning.

    Smells of ownership.

    Ear tags have been available for 6 decades at least. Why aren’t they used exclusively?

    The answer I got when I was a kid, “Tags can be removed and replaced, but branding scars are forever.”

  • I’ve driven around the West multiple times with people whose jaws drop upon seeing a real life cowboy.

    How/why so?

    • How many urban people are really aware of cowboys existing in 2012?

      • rea

        One can deduce cowboys from the existance of hamburger.

        • ajay

          Not really – other countries have cows but no cowboys.

  • Why would you use an ear tag and not just inject the RFID like they do with family pets?

    • Fraud Guy

      Probably to avoid parts in meat processing; it would be easy to scan ears or remove them in processing, but to find where some idiosyncratic rancher put his RFID and remove it…

      • Warren Terra

        Not just idiosyncratic ones, either; even if they knew exactly where to look they’d not want either to devote the labor to extracting it nor to forego the use of that part as meat.

        • Fraud Guy

          Ears seem to be about the only part not used for food/byproducts.

          • Warren Terra

            I’d not be surprised if they do use the ears – but a tag can be cut out or the wire attaching it can be clipped, far more easily and reliably than you can go digging around for an embedded pellet.

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

            HOT DOGS

        • witless chum

          Well, given the size of some of the bone chips you get in hamburger, (allegedly due to lines in slaughterhouses being run too fast) I may as well chew up an RFD chip or two. USDA ought to be able to figure out that XJ00999X0 isn’t grazing at the Kalamazoo Sewer treatment plant.

    • Nathan Williams

      Probably read range – the chips that are injected into pets have a very, very short range, partly as a consequence of having such a small antenna and partly because they’re surrounded by RF-attenuating flesh (for electrical purposes, modeled as a bag of salt water). You pretty much have to put the reader’s antenna right up to the animal near the injection site.

      Larger RFID antennas, like you could fit in the ear tags, have much longer range (easily several feet, up to tens of feet in good conditions), and they’re outside the animal rather than inside.

      If you wanted to scan every animal as they walked through a door, which is a pretty common application, you could do that in an automated way with ear tags and a fixed reader antenna, and you wouldn’t be able to do that with injected tags.

    • Chet Manly

      Partly due to existing tools and practices. Plain old plastic cattle ear tags as an alternative to branding has been around for at least 30 years. Most ranchers already have and use tag applicators that look a bit like plastic leather punches.

      Heck, cattle tags may have been around for 80 years for all I know, but I’m 37, grew up in the high plains, and I’ve never met a rancher who still brands cattle. It’s a lot more humane and convenient to just give the cattle little plastic earrings.

  • witless chum

    I couldn’t believe I got through the article and no one mentioned black helicopters. Clearly, they needed to interview Ron Paul.

    And, yeah, dairy farmers in Michigan always used ear tags since I can recall going on farm calls with my mom and dad in the mid-80s. Anyone who’s nostalgic for the smell of burning hair out to come by when they’re dehorning.

  • In defense of the ranchers, catching a cow is not easy. Branding, though cruel, lets them identify the animal with out catching it and running a scanner across it.

  • Western Dave

    I once had a student who was somehow related to the King ranch. I brought up the use of helicopters in ranching and pointed to the King ranch as an example based on an article that was several years old. She immediately objected that they didn’t use helicopters. Her mother e-mailed me to assure me that they didn’t, they’d just been to the ranch over the summer and no helicopters were in evidence. In investigating the claim I discovered that indeed, King ranch had abandoned helicopters, along with significant ranching operations. They were now doing ranch tourism a la City Slickers.

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