Hot branding of equines continues in SA

Despite hot branding of equines having largely been discontinued in Europe, the practice is still used by some horse owners in South Africa.

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However, according to some sources, there at last seems to be a gradual move away from this practice, which is widely considered cruel and inhumane, because horses and donkeys have thinner skin than cattle. Gill Olmesdahl, chairperson of the Coastal Horse Care Unit, said that alternatives to hot branding include freeze branding, tattooing and microchipping.

The downside is that the specialised equipment needed for these procedures is not available to many poorer equine owners.
In addition, only freeze branding is visible from a distance, unlike tattoos and microchips. “While all branding can lead to abuse, we’d prefer to see freeze branding over hot branding,” said Olmesdahl. “A lot of hot branding is done barbarically, with these very painful brands often placed on top of each other every time an animal changes hands.”

Freeze branding doesn’t cause the same kind of severe tissue damage. Dr Andrew Fowler, a private vet from Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal, said that when he freeze brands horses it’s often done with the animal under sedation. He also said many horse owners don’t mark their animals in any way, making it more difficult to track the horses down and identify the owners if the animals are stolen.

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Bruce Mattison, of Midlands Pound in KwaZulu-Natal, said the law requires all equines to be permanently marked with a registered brand. He said that, if done using proper branding irons and an immobiliser, by an appropriately trained person, hot branding of equines is an effective tool.

“But what we’re advising recreational horse riders is to have their animals freeze branded in the saddle area, so that the brands are not visible when the horse is being ridden,” he said. “But if the horse is stolen, then the freeze brand is easily visible from the road and from the air.” Mattison said that too many stolen and recovered horses and donkeys are having to be sold at public auctions because they’re not branded, making it almost impossible to track down their owners.