Cattle “branding”

Chris Dean's picture

Decoding the range: The secret language of cattle branding
A really neat article about cattle brands. Below is an image from it.

Figure 1: Sample cow brands

hrant's picture



Andreas Stötzner's picture

I like the F on two legs!

Reminds us upon what ‘branding’ actually means.

tmac's picture

This is one of my interests as I have friends who are -- or have been -- in the cattle business. I even dug up the Canadian government documents on what makes a brand "official." Here are a few things I learned:

1. You are not to have more than one glyph on an iron. So if your brand is, for example MH, you are supposed to have an M iron and an H iron. In a way, you are setting type on the side of a cow because each glyph is discrete.

2. A lazy glyph is one that rests on its back. You've probably seen hotels and bars called Lazy J's. If the glyph rests on its face, then it is not lazy -- it is dead; it doesn't count. The Calgary Stampede has a somewhat new brand and, strangely enough, they did not do a lazy S. The S is on its face, and that is wrong. You can see it here:

3. In a short period of time there likely won't be any more branding, as it's all being replaced with RFID tags on the ear. So you use a scanner to sort cows, rather than looking for a brand. This is probably better for the cows. However, the community event of a cattle brand will also be lost, which is unfortunate.

dudefellow's picture

tmac, 2 May 2013 — 1:11pm: "3. In a short period of time there likely won't be any more branding, as it's all being replaced with RFID tags on the ear. So you use a scanner to sort cows, rather than looking for a brand."

How is a radio frequency identification biochip supposed to protect the ownership of livestock compared to labels such as visible exterior tags or branding? The ownly [sic] identification provided by a biochip is its barcode number. Nobody would be able to see who owns the biochip unless he uses a radio frequency scanner for the purpose.

Suppose some farmer were to mark his cattle with biochips. If another person were to try to confiscate any of the cows marked by biochips and claim them as his own, do you think he would not locate the biochip by means of a radio frequency scanner, then excise the mark of the true owner and replace it by implanting biochips of a different barcode number? If a dispute arises, how is the true original owner supposed to substantiate his claim?

As for the welfare of the animal, who is to know whether the beast would prefer an implanted biochip or an external tag or brand? Probably the chief concern would be about being sent to the butcher. Perhaps cattle would even like having bright yellow or white plastic tags hanging out of their ears. It might make them feel that they belong to an exclusive club. Even humans are known to choose to wear similar accessories. They call them earrings, though they be made of gold, silver, and bronze.

In the country where I live, I have seen sheep labelled by coloured paint on their backs. I have not noticed any iron branding of cattle hide. I do not know whether cattle have sensation in their hooves, but perhaps a humane way to brand them would be on their hooves, although this might make checking the brands somewhat more awkward.

I read an article recently in the Irish Times newspaper about calls from farmers to have all domestic dogs marked with biochips. Currently, all pet dogs are supposed to have identification collars, and there is no obligation to have them marked with biochips. There was a campaign of advertisements supported by different groups, such as animal charities, to encourage pet owners to have their dogs biochipped at their own expense at their veterinary clinics. I do not think it is a good idea to make biochipping compulsory. The manufacturer would gain too much influence by guaranteed profits, which would only be fed back in towards new means for making and new markets for marking by implantable microchips.

donshottype's picture

One of the problems in the years before Brand regulation, was rustlers who used over-branding -- placing a more complex letter on top of of a simple one to disguise the original mark.

Té Rowan's picture

Talking of sheep... sheep up here are horned, and those that were branded were horn-branded – the brand was applied to one or both horns. They were usually earmarked, however, with each farm having its own mark.

baseking's picture

There was a campaign of advertisements supported,was rustlers who used should make sure the name is easily legible.

Thylacine's picture

For what it's worth, I grew up on a sheep and cattle ranch in southern Utah. Our registered brand is a quarter-circle 7 that was drawn up by my great, great grandfather back in the 1860s (quickly redrawn below).

As anachronistic as it might sound, range cattle rustling is still a problem, and an obvious brand burned into the hide is still the most effective way to deter thieves. It's also the best way to identify the owner of a wayward animal from a distance (always a problem). Even so, it's terribly painful and traumatic for the cattle, and likely one of the reasons I didn't pursue the family business. Many ranchers today freeze the brand into the hide rather than using a hot iron.

Our sheep were branded with a quarter-circle 7 as well, but branded with paint after being sheared in the spring. The permanent markers on a sheep are accomplished with ear notches . Our registered ear notches consisted of the end one ear being cut off, a small slit in the other with an adjacent round hole being punched. This was done when the lambs were a couple of months old and performed simultaneously with castration, various inoculations and tail removal (all done with a sharp knife). It makes for a very bloody day, and again, contributed to me veering away from the family business.

hrant's picture

the best way to identify the owner of a wayward animal from a distance

What if he's fully dressed? ;-P


Thylacine's picture

Good one. :-)

Té Rowan's picture

Well, if you are OK with being unable to sit down for a few days or even lose your tackle after wiping your disk…

Syndicate content Syndicate content