Cattle branding tips for low stress and quality brands

Apr 25, 2014

With the month of April coming to a close, most spring cow/calf producers are gearing up for their annual brandings that include family traditions that rival the Christmas holiday season. Often local communities even rally around the brandings.

In Beulah, WY, the first weekend in June is reserved for the Testicle Festival, an annual fundraiser for the local volunteer fire department, where local ranchers donate some of the family jewels to the cause. Billed on the radio as the “original sack lunch,” the event has grown over the years, and become a full day of festivities that concludes over a month of brandings.

The hot iron branding tradition remains one of the oldest and best ways to permanently identify livestock, serving as an excellent safeguard against livestock theft, loss or dispute. The International Livestock Identification Association (ILIA) considers livestock brands to be as important as return addresses on mail.

ILIA, formed in 1947 in Belle Fourche , SD, is dedicated to helping educate the general public, as well as local, state/provincial, and federal officials on the critical importance of the livestock industry in North America. While branding continues to create controversy with animal activists, ILIA stands behind producers as the best steward of animal welfare, care and health.

Most state’s brand boards have tips and guidelines that support not only the tradition, but the necessity of the identification. Proper location and getting a quality brand can make a difference when it comes down to a dispute of ownership.

Branding tips from the South Dakota Brand Board

• The iron, when heated properly, should appear to be the color of ashes. A branding iron must burn sufficiently to remove the hair and outer layer of skin. Acids and other branding fluids are not permitted.

• It is recommended that a four-inch iron be used on calves and that an iron five inches or longer be used on yearlings or mature cattle. All irons should have a thickness or face of 3/8 to 1/2 inch.

A light weight iron should be used to brand horses. Their skin is thin and a very light pressure will produce a permanent brand. Sharp edges on the face of a branding iron should be ground or filed off. A thin or burned up iron should not be used. It will cut the hide and leave a narrow scar that will easily cover with hair. It is not advisable to combine more than two letters or numbers on one iron.

• Branding irons should not be used by inexperienced hands. Adequate time must be allowed when applying brands and various other conditions must also be considered. Livestock will carry their brands for life—take time to apply with care.

• Do not apply a light “hair” brand. It will soon disappear leaving no permanent mark.

• Do not brand on top of any part of a previous brand.

• Depending on the temperature of the branding iron, age of the animal, hair cover, etc., the branding process should take from five to ten seconds.

• Remember, you only need to burn the hair and outer layer of skin. Too deep a brand will result in bleeding and take longer to heal.

• A proper brand should be the color of saddle leather when the brand is removed. Rocking the iron during the branding process will insure uniformity on all areas of the brand.

• Keep the branding irons free of scale, burnt hair, etc., by cleaning with a steel brush, dipping into a pail of sand or a bucket of oil during use.

• Wet or damp cattle should not be branded as it will result in scalding and cause the brand to blotch.

Freeze branding

While freeze branding has not become the norm, it has gained in popularity.

According to Ted G. Dyer, Extension Animal Scientist at the University of Georgia, freeze branding is performed using a coolant and copper or copper-alloy branding irons. Two common freeze branding methods include using either liquid nitrogen or a combination of dry ice and alcohol as a coolant.

Freeze branding is relatively stress-free for the animal, and causes little or no damage to the hide. Unlike fire brands, freeze brands result in reduced incidences of blotching. However, compared to fire branding, freeze branding takes more time, can be more costly and the brands may not be as clear on all cattle.

Beef Quality Assurance guidelines for identification:

• If cattle are branded, it should be accomplished quickly, expertly and with the proper equipment.

• Feeder cattle should not be re-branded when entering a feedlot unless required by law.

• Brands should be of appropriate size to achieve clear identification.

• Jaw brands should not be used.

• Ear notching may be used to identify cattle.

• Wattling, ear splitting and other surgical alterations for identification are strongly discouraged. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor