Hot iron branding is a tradition that is still widely practiced today. It is used to identify cattle and prevent them from being stolen and re-sold. But there are other ways to identify cattle that are much less stressful on the animal. On TK Ranch we use freeze branding to identify our cattle. Where hot iron branding burns a mark into the hide of an animal, freeze branding simply kills the colour follicle in the hair causing it to turn white.
To freeze brand, brass irons are placed into a mixture of methyl alcohol and dry ice for several minutes. The calf is restrained on a calf table and the hair where the brand will be applied is shaved. Methyl alcohol is then sprayed onto the shaved area to ensure good contact is made. The iron is then applied for 30 seconds. The animal initially reacts like the process stings for a couple of seconds, then relaxes as the freezing/numbing of the hide takes effect.
Freeze branding is not widely recognized in the conventional cattle industry. This is because it takes several weeks for the animal’s hair to turn white — enough time potentially for it to be stolen and sold. With new government legislation that makes the use of radio frequency identification tags mandatory fewer people are hot iron branding, but because these tags can be removed easily from a calf’s ear most producers continue this traditional practice.