Branding of cattle has been around for centuries. Some think that it originally started to establish ownership of animals during the rise of Egyptian society. According to Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension Specialist in Lawrence County, in the United States it became widespread in the early 1800s on large ranches in the west and was practiced to maintain owner identity of cattle that grazed on open range and government land.
Mark Harmon, the marketing director for Joplin Regional Stockyards in Jasper County agrees with Cole saying, “Branding came from the larger outfits out west where the cattle ran on open range – every ranch had a brand and that brand was greatly respected. When ranchers gathered their cattle to work or wean them, if he found another rancher’s cow, he would notify the owner so the animal could be picked up or moved back to its home ranch.”
Nowadays, according to Cole, “The primary benefit of branding is to establish ownership that will be recognized as proof in a court of law when there is a dispute. This could occur when your animals stray on your neighbors or when they’re stolen.” A brand can also be helpful in marketing your livestock, especially if you’re breeding for good genetics.
Harmon added that the brand must be registered in the state of Missouri to be acceptable proof of ownership.
Cole describes the two main types of branding acceptable for ownership identification – the conventional hot-iron or fire brand method and the freeze brand method which uses a super cooled iron.
He said, “The hot iron results in a destruction of the hair follicle. The freeze brand, when properly applied results in new hair growth coming in white. Of course this isn’t effective for Charolais or any white haired animals.” However, the cold iron should only be left on for 45 seconds or it, too, will burn the hair follicle. The cold iron is generally considered to be less stressful and less painful for the animals.
Cattle thieves usually don’t mess with branded animals as they’re too easily identifiable. In the same way, if you purchase a branded animal and you brand yourself, you can (A) re-brand over the old brand or (B) re-brand in a new location. Cole noted that it’s acceptable to brand in the hip, rib or shoulder region of either side of the animal. However, too much branding on one animal can result in hide damage, which can cause stress to the animal and a reduced value of the hide.
It’s important to retain a bill of sale from all purchases of branded cattle to ensure your investment in that animal in case it ever came up in a court of law.
Even with less than 10 percent of livestock farms branding their animals in Missouri, both Cole and Harmon recommend branding cattle because of the high incidence of cattle theft in the Southwest Missouri region.


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