Branding cattle and horses goes beyond claiming ownership. It comes with a sense of pride and the opportunity to express yourself.
By Kelli Neubert
October 24, 2017
Whether it’s a hot brand or a freeze brand, aged on the hide of a stringy ol’ cow or freshly stamped on the hip of a shiny show horse, I love the way a good brand looks.
Besides the obvious function of animal identification (and keeping livestock theft to a minimum), brands hold a great level of importance for ranchers and breeders. It’s a way to tell the world that an animal came from a particular program. Brands carry a sense of pride and dedication to owning or raising quality animals. It becomes a part of one’s identity—found on more than just animals (think ballcaps, hand towels and fuel tanks). But the thing that I really like about brands is that most of them come with a good reason behind the chosen character.
Some of them are simply the initials of the owner. Sometimes it’s a number of significance to the family. Often, a brand is handed down from one generation to another. Some are a spin on an otherwise boring character, like turning a simple “A” into a flying A, a rocking A, or a rafter A. Once in a while, the brand itself has a clever story or anecdote that explains why it was picked.
Our branding iron has been both heated with fire and frozen in nitrogen. It’s registered on the hip in Texas and on the shoulder in California. We opted for something simple—a single character. It isn’t a letter or a number. It’s a symbol—a palm tree. I designed it for my husband years ago and gave it to him as a Christmas present. To us, it is a reminder of Hawaii, one of our favorite places known for good weather, beaches, hammocks and simple living. Every cow and horse that we raise, buy and sell, wears our brand, and hopefully that brings us one step closer to buying a winter retreat—one of these days.
There are generally two avenues to take when stamping hides: a hot iron or a freeze iron. Most of the cattle that we see are branded with an iron that’s been heated, which leaves more of a dark, scarred character on the hide. Because it is applied with heat, it’s important for hot irons to be clear, clean and simple. A hot brand is much more likely to blotch when the design has close corners and tight spots in the characters. It is applied quickly —only held on for a few seconds or less. A freeze brand is done with a brass iron and either liquid nitrogen or dry ice and alcohol. The area must be very clean and shaved close to the skin for optimal results. The brand is held on for a longer period of time than the hot iron—often longer than 20 seconds for a horse. The brand actually alters the hair follicles and the hair grows back white in the shape of the character. Freeze brands can be more intricate than hot ones because there is no risk of blotching.
Of course, a brand can have its flaws. It’s certainly an uncomfortable process and a certain level of expertise is necessary for the best results. A brand can be a selling point on horses, but to others, it can be a deterrent. Try to stick with something that’s not gaudy or hard to read. And try your best to keep a brand from slipping or accidentally getting stamped on twice.
I love how a brand carries a sense of duty, responsibility and pride. The ranches, farms and families that raise quality animals make sure that their brand is well represented. I can think of several operations with famous irons that many of us would be proud to throw our saddles on and ride.
Whether it’s on the hip, the shoulder, the rib or the jaw, a clean, pretty brand is often admired. And if you are lucky enough to have one of your own, I would love to hear the story behind it!