Ten Things You Don’t Know About: Branding

1.  Branding has been going on for centuries, the first in recorded history was with the Egyptians.  Other early civilizations had temporary brands using some sticky substance and applying dirt or colored powder into the “glue”.

2. Branding is the U.S. most likely came through the vaquero’s Spanish influence since cattle had been branded in the open spaces in Spain.

3.  Here in Wyoming, brands are registered with the state.  Not every design can become a brand.  A poor design simply blotches when burned into hide, so brands must be simple.

4.  Brand books are printed (and now CDs are burned as well!) every few years, so you can see everyone’s brand in the state.  It will also tell what animal it is for (cattle, sheep, or horses), where it is located (ribs, hip, butt, shoulder, cheek), and if it is used with other identification methods like earmarks or wattling.

5.  Brands must be renewed with your brand fee or you lose the right to use it.

6.  Brand inspectors verify ownership and inspect livestock when selling or transporting livestock across county or state lines.  They’re the guys that will return your livestock to you, or if an owner can’t be found or there is no brand, the livestock is sold with proceeds going back to the state.

7.  Running irons, irons that can modify previous brands into other designs, are illegal.  This tool would basically allow you to claim cattle that wasn’t yours!

8.  They now have electric branding irons, but we rarely brand anywhere there is electricity!  Some people use propane to heat the irons, we believe the old cedar fenceposts make a hotter, quieter, (and better smelling) fire.

9.  Freeze branding is another method of branding, using dry ice and alcohol, the brand freezes the hair follicles and when the hair regrows, it comes in white.

10.  Brands may be sold.  An average brand can sell for a few hundred dollars, one with a history, like from a famous ranch, can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

*Bonus*  Our brand, A – A, doesn’t have special significance for us, it’s no one’s initials, etc., it was simply the brand that came with the place when we bought it 105 years ago.

While I often say I enjoy branding, it isn’t the application of the brand I’m talking about.  I’m talking about how this family, and friends, and neighbors, and occasionally visiting dudes, come together to tackle a huge project.  This sharing of the workload is how so many things were built and accomplished “back in the day”.  Think of an Amish barn raising.  While everyone’s ranch is different, we prefer to keep this tradition going.  It might be a chore to feed the crew, but it’s definitely worth it, to have the job done quickly and efficiently by people who know what they’re doing.  Our purpose is not to injure the calf or unduly stress it, why would we do that? but we see it as the best way to do a difficult and necessary job.  Besides, with good people around, there’s plenty of banter and teasing and laughter and a great meal at the end!


To answer Sheila’s question from my post yesterday… Yes, there is three times the iron touches the calf.  One long single iron with the A-A connected wouldn’t work because of the way skin moves plus it is not a flat surface.  A rocking or sliding motion must be made to compensate for the angle of application, the movement of the calf, and the angle of his ribs.  It wouldn’t be possible to get an even brand with a long iron, you’d be burning too hot in one spot and not hot enough in the other.  The brands are applied for only seconds with care taken that they are legible and perfectly made with minimal stress.



Ten Things You Don’t Know About: Branding — 11 Comments

  1. Branding was the one thing I loved about the ranch. I even got to rope one year and that was a bit fun. I do so enjoy your writings and your pictures.
    How is the baby Lorelei doing? We still have her in our prayers.
    Take care,

  2. Most interesting! Looks like you had nice weather for your gathering. Good friends…good food…the smell of the cedar fire wafting through the air…Hooray for preserving a Western tradition.

  3. Oh…when you sell your cattle, and they are branded, what does the new owner do about it? Re-brand? Cross out your brand????

    • The new owner just brands the cattle with his brand. Cattle branded many times is a warning sign… if lots of people sold this cow, you need to know why.

  4. Does branding hurt the calf like it does when we burn ourselves on the stove (or worse)? Is there fear of infection? Do they “scream” when the iron touches them?

    • I imagine it hurts, but remember, cow hide is very thick. It’s hard to relate our thin skin to theirs. You never see them rubbing it or scratching at it or acting uncomfortable once we let them go and they find their mommas. There’s no fear of infection unless they were burned clear through their hide, which we don’t do. We want the skin to simply peel like a sunburn. They bawl, but they bawl as they’re laying there. It’s kind of rude to hold them down, and they don’t like it! Some bawl with the iron, some don’t. Many are just wanting their moms.

  5. I can totally see what you mean when you describe what you enjoy about branding. It’s a good old gathering with purpose. We had a dairy cow, or two, that had been freeze branded. I’d never looked into how that worked. One cow, just about the biggest thing you ever saw, come through the door off the truck with a white H on her hip. She instantly gained the name Hulk, and it stuck.

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