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Things You Should Know About Branding

branding horses and cows
Ranchers brand horses and cattle to show ownership

Different Types of Brands

There are various branding methods you can use for your cattle and horses. Those include fire branding, electric brands, and freeze branding. Among these methods, freeze branding is perhaps the most popular these days, because of its simple, safe, and inexpensive in nature. 

Fire Branding

Fire branding involves placing a hot iron on the skin of an animal. You should keep it for enough time to remove the hair and leave a burn scar. Applying some type of oil can help in the healing and peeling process. Fire branding prevents hair growth in the branded area or results in hair growing on the raised skin. And you can usually clearly read the brand in the sunlight.

If you chose to use a hot iron, you would need to prepare a set of irons with numerals from 0 to 9, along with your own brand. For horses and cattle, the brand size might differ. For example, horse brands are usually 1.2×1.2 inches. Even though it might seem like a small brand, its size will change as the animal grows. Besides, the brand is very legible, even at this size. When handling hot irons, take extra caution. They can easily bend when they are hot, and just like other metal objects, they might get rusty.

Electric Branding

Apart from a traditional hot iron, you can also use an electric branding iron. It operates on electricity to heat to the needed temperature. Electric irons are not only common for branding cattle and horses, but they are also good for leaving marks on wood and leather, for example. By changing the flow of electricity, you can regulate the temperature of the iron. It usually takes about 5 minutes for the iron to heat up before it can give a clear brand, and about 3-5 seconds to place the brand. 


Electric irons are not only common for branding cattle and horses but also wood and leather

It usually takes about 5 minutes for the iron to heat up before it can give a clear brand, and about 5 seconds to place the brand. When the animal’s hair is very long, it is best to clip it before placing the iron on the skin. If the brand is not very clear, it is best to repeat the procedure later instead of holding the brand for too long.  

Freeze Branding

Freeze branding is a technique in which a chilled iron is placed on the animal’s skin for a fixed time. This method works by removing the cells responsible for the color of the hair on the animal’s skin. Using a cold iron is less painful than the hot one for the animals because they react less to cooler temperatures on their skin. As a result, this technique has become the most popular for branding horses. Brands usually consist of numerals from 0 to 9 and a rancher’s own brand. 

Freeze branding has its advantages and disadvantages. Compared to fire and electric branding, it is a rather safe and painless method that leaves less damage compared to others. You can also trace your animal easily if they are freeze branded because the brand is visible at any season during the year. However, this process takes much longer compared to hot branding. Apart from that, this method requires specialized equipment, which ranchers also need to learn how to handle.  

How to Use a Freeze Brand?

If you decided to freeze brand your horses and cattle, there are several steps that you should follow to do it properly. Here is what you should prepare: 

  • liquid nitrogen (- 300F) or dry ice
  • 95% alcohol
  • gloves
  • animal clippers
  • branding irons
  • time tracking device
    Freeze brand requires technique and equipment
    Freeze brand requires technique and equipment

    First, make sure to restrain the animal so you can brand it without interruptions. Choose the site for the brand and make sure you can reach it easily. Before you start preparing the animal, place the irons in the container with liquid nitrogen or dry ice, so they have time to chill. Next, prepare the animal. Clean the area of the branding site, clip it in the shape of a square and dry properly. 


    Now that you made sure that the animal is still and your irons are chilled for enough time take the timer and position it where it is visible. It is best to keep all of your equipment close in case you need to reach it. Rub the brand site with alcohol to remove skin oils and also enhance the transfer of the cold into the skin from the iron head. Right after applying the alcohol, you can place the brand.

    Take the chilled iron from the container with nitrogen or dry ice, align it with the brand site and press. When the iron is pressed to the animal’s skin, the brander should indicate to start a stopwatch. While applying the brand, it is best to be as still as possible and not lose contact with the skin of the animal for 8-15 seconds. After the timer has passed, the iron should be removed from the skin immediately.

    Depending on the iron and the age of the horse, you may need different times for branding. Darker horses require less time than lighter horses. After it is complete, you should place the iron back to the container and wait until it is cold again before you can brand the next animal with it. It may take about five minutes for it to cool down enough after use, during which time you can prepare the brand site on the next animal.