Different methods of marking livestock

Livestock can be marked to establish ownership. One method of permanent marking you can use is branding.

Different methods of marking livestock
The length of time the hot-iron brand is applied for varies from three to five seconds, depending on how hot the iron is and the amount of pressure applied.
Photo: Chris Nel

In many parts of South Africa, branding is, or will become, compulsory by law. Brands must be registered with the Registrar of Animal Identification to ensure that livestock owners each have their own identifying brand, says the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) agriculture department.

Whether hot-iron or freeze branding is used, the process involves cauterising the skin (creating a surface wound and instantly “sealing” it to stop it bleeding), which leaves a scar – the brand.

Holding a hot iron against the skin for too long damages the whole skin area around the brand, resulting in a smudged brand, which should be avoided. The iron must also not be too sharp where it comes into contact with the animal.

This can cause open wounds, which could lead to infections and then you won’t be able to read the brand very well.

The animal’s coat and skin colour affects how clear the brand will be. A brand on a dark-skinned animal with light hair colour is often very clear, as the “scar” shows up dark against the light hair.

The brand itself should be designed so that there are no letters that enclose a whole area of skin, so try to avoid using A, B, D, P, Q and R. An “O” can be used if it’s not a complete circle, but has at least one or two openings, as in ( ).

Large brands with many digits cause more damage to hides and discomfort to animals, and using them is difficult and often unsuccessful. Hide damage is a problem with all types of branding, so many people place brands on the neck area or just above the hock or elbow joint.

But as the KZN agriculture department points out, “These are difficult sites to brand because animals tend to jump around when branded. A brand on the rump just behind the hip bone, although it damages the hide, is easier to apply, especially when animals stand in a tight group, and it’s easy to read.”

Hot-iron branding
Good hot-iron brands are permanent and can be read from a distance. When branding with a hot-iron, animals must be dry and the area where the brand is applied must be relatively clean.

Moisture or mud on the hair causes smudged brands. Where the coat is relatively heavy or woolly, the hair can catch alight. Branding irons must be heated to a dull glow. To make sure the brand is hot enough, test on a wooden plank. The animal must be restrained and held very still.

The length of time the brand is applied varies from three to five seconds, depending on how hot the iron is and the amount of pressure applied. And hold the branding iron firmly, because the steam produced often causes it to slip.

“If the hair on the branding site is the colour of brown shoe polish and the skin isn’t broken, the brand has been applied correctly,” says the KZN agriculture department. After branding, it’s best not to apply any medication. Instead, use clean water to cool off the area quickly. If blow fly strike is a problem, use a fly repellent.

Freeze branding
This is considered more humane than hot-iron branding, but it isn’t always as successful. It also involves equipment an emerging farmer might not have access to. For this type of branding, the hair is clipped as short as possible over the area where the brand is to be applied.

The branding irons, which have to be stronger than for hot branding, are cooled off in liquid nitrogen or dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) with methylated spirit. The amount of time the branding iron is applied to the skin varies from 28 to 60 seconds.

At the shorter time interval, there is hair de-pigmentation (hair loses its colour). At the longer time interval, the hair is destroyed. The time depends on the animal’s hair and skin colour.

Applying the branding iron for too short a time to cause de-pigmentation of white hairs on white skin will result in no visible brand, whereas de-pigmentation of black hair on white skin is very successful.

Source: The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development (www.agriculture.kzntl.gov.za).