A total of 1,203 beef calves were used to evaluate 2 series of electronic identification boluses. Calves were intensively fattened and slaughtered at approximately 1 yr of age. Series 1 (n = 576 calves) consisted of 10 types of boluses with the same external dimensions (o.d. × length: 21 × 68 mm) but varying in weight (11 to 75 g) and specific gravity (0.63 to 3.36). Six boluses were made of ceramic (5 prototypes and 1 commercial bolus) and 4 were tubes made of plastic filled with concrete. Series 2 (n = 627 calves) consisted of 3 prototypes and 5 commercial boluses of different ceramic materials varying in external dimensions (o.d.: 15 to 21 mm; length: 39 to 78 mm), weight (20 to 73 g), and specific gravity (3.00 to 3.87). Boluses were administered to milk-fed calves (2 to 5 wk of age) by using adapted balling guns. To determine the anatomical limit for a bolus passing through the gastrointestinal tract, the size of the reticulo-omasal orifice was measured in 90 male and 62 female fattened calves at slaughter. Three calves in series 1 (0.3%) could not swallow the 21-mm (o.d.) bolus at the first attempt and received the bolus 1 wk later. No problems for early administration were found with thinner boluses (o.d. <20 mm) in series 2, and no signs of disease or growth alteration were detected in any bolused calves. Retention rate until slaughter varied according to bolus features and ranged from 0 to 100% (series 1), and from 69.7 to 100% (series 2). Inadequately dimensioned boluses were regurgitated or passed through the gastrointestinal tract and were excreted with the feces. The diameter of the reticulo-omasal orifice differed between male and female yearling calves (32.5 and 29.9 mm, respectively; P < 0.01) and was greater than the o.d. of the retained boluses. Retention rate was predicted from bolus weight and volume by a logistic regression (R2 = 0.99, P < 0.001), in which the minimum bolus weight estimated to reach a 99.5% retention rate was 61 g when volume and specific gravity were 22.4 mL and 2.72, respectively. To achieve an effective retention rate of electronic identification boluses in the forestomachs of fattening calves, bolus volume and specific gravity, in addition to weight, should be optimized. No boluses of specific gravity lower than 3.0 and thicker than 20 mm o.d. are recommended for identification of cattle from early rearing (<20 d of age) to slaughtering.