Life of a Ranch Wife

Cowboys come together to brand, castrate and doctor cattle. (Photo by Lanna Mills)

By Lanna Mills

Branding is a practice that has been used by cattlemen for hundreds of years. Brands were made famous by the cowboys of the old west, yet hieroglyphic evidence shows that ancient Egyptians were branding livestock as early as 2700 B.C.

As the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” There is a reason why branding is still being used today: it works. What is branding? Why is branding important? Isn’t there a better or more humane way? How do people know who a brand belongs to? How do we mark our cattle?

What is branding?

Branding is a practice used by cattlemen to mark livestock. This mark is a visual, permanent proof of ownership. This mark is unique to the ranch or person who owns the cattle. Often brands are made up of initials and characters/symbols. Some popular symbols used are a rocker, bar, rafter, or circle. The brand is confined to a certain location on the stock.  The cattle are branded with a branding iron. Branding irons are forged metal implements that are heated and pressed to the cattle to burn the brand into the hide.

Why is branding important?

Branding is important because without an identifying marker, anyone could lay claim to cattle that may or may not rightfully belong to them. Cattle rustling, although many may think of it as a part of the long time gone “old west,” is a very serious threat to today’s ranchers. Rustling is not the only threat.

Cattle—as anyone who has owned them knows—don’t always stay where you put them. Ever heard the saying “the grass is greener on the other side?” Well, cattle seem to believe it. Unbranded cattle can easily get mixed with neighboring cattle and without a way to identify them can be sold without the neighbor even realizing it didn’t belong to him.

Isn’t there a better or more humane way to mark cattle?

This is something that is often asked by people who don’t understand the cattle industry and see branding as harmful or abusive. Yes, there are other ways to mark cattle, but none are as effective as branding; therefore, it remains the top preventive measure to combat cattle theft and loss.

Microchipping can be used, but it is fairly new and quite expensive. Ear tagging is another way to mark cattle which can be helpful, but ear tags can easily and quickly be cut out and no one would ever know the difference. Ear notching is yet another way to mark cattle, but it is usually used in conjunction with branding.

Learn more in the November issue of OKFR!