Hot or cold branding: both demand good technique

The quality and clarity of a brand determine how well it will stand up in court. Good branding technique and the proper equipment also reduces stress for animals.

Neat hot brands, achieved with the correct tools and technique.
Photo: Chris Nel

Correct procedure

Before starting, clean the branding iron with a steel brush to remove hair, dirt and debris. Then heat the iron on a bed of coals in a wood fire, or a gas burner, until it is silvery-grey in colour, but glows cherry-red when viewed in a darkened area.
Restrain the animal’s head in the neck clamp of a squeeze chute, and close it.

Clip the hair and remove the mud and dirt from the area to be branded. Press the branding iron firmly against the hide, rocking the handle slightly from side to side to vary the pressure and apply the marking uniformly. If the iron is at the correct temperature and the animal has a light summer hair coat, apply it for no more than three to five seconds. An animal with a heavy winter coat must be clipped before branding, or the branding iron must be applied for at least five to 10 seconds.

When the iron is removed, an indented outline of the brand immediately becomes visible on the skin. It disappears within seconds, but a few minutes later it reappears as swollen, puffy skin. When the swelling subsides, the brand will initially be difficult or impossible to see, but within a few days the branded skin will flake off. Within a month, the brand will have its permanent appearance.

Advantages

  • Cold branding is permanent. The process is applied only once in an animal’s lifetime.
  • The brand mark does not smudge as easily as a hot brand. 
  • The animal’s skin is less damaged as cold branding only affects the pigment layer of the skin. 
  • The animal does not experience as much pain as with hot branding, and the rest of the herd remains calm. 
  • Cold branding on dark animals is more defined from a distance, as the new hair is white.
  • Placing a hot brand over a cold brand does not prevent the hair from growing out white, therefore an altered original brand is obvious.

The next article will deal with tattooing technique and equipment.