flashback….branding 2022

Guess what we did over the summer? No, we didn’t go on vacation but it was pretty close. Over the course of one weekend, besides complaining commenting about the heat and smokey air we did our annual branding for the 2022 calves.

Our way of branding is not like what you see in Hollywood western movies. No cowboys on horses, no roping and flinging the critter to the ground, no bonfires with red hot irons in the coals, no smell of burning hair, no yelling or hollering (well, maybe there’s a little bit of that…), no dogs running around barking and biting, not a whole lot of disorganized chaos and no bawling calves. The only moo-hoo’ing came from their mamas who were upset we stole their precious little babies. But the one thing in common was dust…. lots of dust…. caused by never ending heatwave that seemed to hung around parching the ground, us & the cows who stirred up the well-baked dirt of the corral & tossed it into the wind. The persistent heatwave had been nothing but a rollercoaster ride between hot and tolerable. And as always the wind never seems to cooperate when you have plans to do cows or some sort of outdoor activity.

For those readers who may not know what ‘branding’ cattle is beyond Hollywood’s portrayal of working cattle, it is just like name ‘brand’ logos on clothing or shoes for proprietorship of a product. For livestock producers it’s a way to identify ownership of their stock. Cattle, horses, mules, donkeys, goats, and sheep can all have some sort of identifying brand or mark.

There are different types of branding irons that can make either a permanent or temporary mark of identification. One type of ‘iron’ design for wool sheep is one that can be dipped in paint to make a temporary mark on the wool. Permanent brands make a permanent mark on the animal’s hide using an iron, whether it is a fire-heated iron, electric hot iron or a freeze brand iron that is super chilled by immersing in liquid nitrogen or a combination of dry ice & alcohol.

Brands identify the animal to you, your ranch or farm. Branding livestock has been around for thousands of years. Egyptian tomb paintings depict branded oxen. Some brands have been passed down through the generations of families. You create a design that represents you – it can be arrows, letters, squiggly lines, numbers… whatever type of design that is like line art, or a stick drawings. Minimal design so not to injure the animal. Brands are registered within your individual state along with the location of the brand on the animal. Another identifier may include as notches of the ears, wattles or dewlaps and tattoos.

The original ‘TV dinner brand’ (archive.org – 1886 Montana Stock Growers brand book, pg 42)

And not all ‘brand’ designs are used on animals. Some people have designed a brand and registered it with their state brand inspector and yet never own livestock. They may use the design for a business logo or personal use, or just for bragging rights.

Some designs are simple and some are more elaborate. The simpler the design, the better it is for the animal when it comes time to brand. And you have to think a little carefully about your brand since there is another type of hot iron that is known as a ‘running’ iron. It is basically a hot poker that rustlers use to remake a brand. Change a brand to another shape or letter and then lay claim to the stock.

For our stock we prefer the freeze brand. It seems to be less stressful for the animal and minimizes damage to their hide. The freezing damages the pigment cells in the hair and changes color from red to white in the area the freeze brand touches. It is said that black or red haired cattle take freeze brands best rather than white haired cattle. Not all of the brands come out clean but it is a technique that has been a learning curve and can be affected by weather conditions…. like rain or wind… or a squirmy calf who just doesn’t like being squeezed or touched.

No ear notches or chopped ears for our cows as noted in the above illustration. We use an ear tattoo with their respective numbers that is applied inside the ear in case they loose their ear tags. And since they are our captive audience we also inspect their overall health & well-being, and administer any treatments or medications, if needed. This year we’ve had some pinkeye issues that required attention. There weren’t any pinkeye patches anywhere to be found within a 100 mile radius… kinda tells you something. And it didn’t matter which breed or whether they’ve been vaccinated for it. This year had been a windy, dry & dusty August, plain & simple.

But after 2 days of gathering, sorting, loading into the alley and into the chute, shaving the hair in the location of where the brand is to be applied, the smell of 99% rubbing alcohol (used for branding), keeping the track of tattoo numbers – the correct number to the correct calf, green toothpaste tattoo ink that stains your cellphone case, clothing & finger nails that will be St. Patrick green for weeks on end, slobber, poop, eye paste, eye patches, a rubber cement-type glue that sticks to whatever it can come into contact with, dirt, dust, wasps, and bumps & bruises (us, not the calves… some of the little rascals have no spines and can jello around on you as you push them through the alley that was obviously was constructed by hobbits that consists of some low lying boards to bonk you in the noggin’) and the heat, topped off with annual summer tradition of smoke-filled air.

We rolled through the cycle of the second day, realizing that we may run out of liquid nitrogen. Then one calf appeared to be missing from the list. Murphy’s Law comes into play once again. Her dear sweet mama brought her into the barnyard just as we closed shop and the tank went dry. But her little brat had pink eye, so instead of a brand she got doctored and tattooed.

In the end, the calves were happy to have ‘survived’ their ordeal, the mama’s got green noses trying to clean the green ears of their babies, calves showed off their fancy square-patched haircuts that will eventually show their brand and some even received the very popular basic black eye patch that so many fashion-conscious cattle, big & small and young & old, modeled over the summertime.

Stay tuned for tales of days past. Until next time…

2 thoughts on “flashback….branding 2022

  1. That is super interesting Hobo! I had not idea that using liquid nitrogen was a thing. What kind of material do you use to administer it (e.g., regular “branding” iron or something else)?

    At The Ranch, the Cowboy resurrected my great great grandfather’s brand.


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