Spring is my favorite time of the year. After the thrills of victory and agonies of defeat during calving season, spring works begin. The cows and calves are gathered and given their spring vaccinations, dewormed and poured for external parasites. When the calves are gathered, they are also given a hot brand. Our brand is a permanent mark of ownership on that calf. If the calf is sold, the new owner can put their brand on the animal, but our brand will always be visible on the left hip.
Livestock branding is a technique for marking livestock so as to identify the owner. Originally, livestock branding only referred to a hot brand for large stock, though the term is now also used to refer to other alternative techniques such as freeze branding. Other forms of livestock identification include inner lip or ear tattoos, earmarking, ear tagging, and RFID tagging with a type of microchip.
Branding is very important in proving ownership of lost or stolen animals. An unbranded animal is almost impossible to legally identify. No other way is as easily visible as branding, not only for identification, but as a deterrent to theft. Other methods such as microchips are positive identification, if a new owner is aware of them, but hot or freeze brands are highly visible and hard to alter.
Brands, both hot iron and freeze brands, are recorded by state livestock agencies in many states. In some states, including Nebraska, freeze brands are not valid on cattle. The agencies also record the location you place the brand on the animal. You may not register a particular brand if the same symbols and location have already been registered by someone else in your area. It is important, not only to register a brand correctly, but to keep it active. Like our vehicle registrations, brand registrations do expire. A number of states do not have brand inspection systems. For instance, Texan’s register brands in their county clerk’s office and do not have a state-wide agency overseeing the 254 counties.
Some ranches still heat branding irons in a wood or coal fire; others use an electric branding iron or electric sources to heat a traditional iron. Regardless of heating method, the iron is only applied for the amount of time needed to remove all hair and create a permanent mark, usually a few seconds. Branding irons are applied for a longer time to cattle than to horses, due to the differing thicknesses of their skins.
There are several differnt ways to brand cattle. Driving them through a squeeze chute, or calf cradle if they are calves is one of the most popular ways. When we brand our calves, we prefer to preserve the way of the west, or western heritage, and “drag them to the fire.” We gather them, sort the cows out of the corral, then rope their hind legs and drag them horseback to the fire. No method is better than the other, we just prefer to rope them.
To read a livestock brand:
1. Read from the left to the right as ML (M L).
2. Read from the top to the bottom as (bar m).
3. When the brand is enclosed, it is read from the outside to the inside as (circle S).
Another method of livestock identification is freeze branding. When super-cold or chilled branding irons are applied to the hide of the animal, the pigment-producing cells are destroyed or altered. When the hair grows back, it is white. The method is not foolproof, as the results are variable depending on the weather, age of animal and the methods used. The major advantage claimed for freeze branding is the brand is more legible throughout most of the year than a hot-iron brand. Freeze branding also causes less damage to the hide than a hot brand.
Replacement heifers (females that are retained in our herd) are given a freeze brand in the spring of their yearling year. The yearling bulls that we sell are also freeze branded. Freeze branding requires more time than hot branding.
We freeze brand because it is much easier to read their numbers when we are sorting the cows. Also if cows loose their ear tags during the course of the year, we can still identify which ones they are.
Now you know a little something about branding cattle. Have a great weekend!