Branding Basics – Part 1

To register your Corriente, every animal must have either a number brand or an ear tattoo for identification. You may know all about branding, but just in case you don’t, we have some great basic information that will help you get started! (go to part 2)

For those lucky enough to have grown up on a ranch, branding time may bring a rush of fond memories. For newcomers in the cattle business, it can be downright intimidating. Though procedures vary from ranch to ranch, the basics of branding stay the same.

When to brand: is up to you and Mother Nature.Choose a day that is clear and dry. If the calves are wet, there’s a good chance that the hide will blister and the brand will blot. You can flank your calves, use a calve table, or put them through a chute. Whatever method you use, try to position your calves so that the sun is shining over the Branders shoulder. Direct sunlight makes it easier to check a brand and make sure that the iron has been applied evenly.

The condition of the calves is an important factor in branding. It is essential that the calves be clean, dry and healthy. Don’t take a chance on branding a sick calf, or a late calf that’s really still too young. Wait a few weeks and protect both the health of the calf and your investment. When you are ready to brand, check the area to be branded and brush off any dirt or manure. Long hair or dirt can cause a finished brand to look dark and mislead the brander. Brush off a dark brand and take a close look before using the iron on the calf a second time.

Open branding fire: This is the old-fashioned way to heat an iron. If you only have a few calves to brand and you are patient, you can still get decent results with a wood-fueled open fire.

Branding iron heater: This is fueled by bottled propane, and is the practical choice of most ranchers. Care should be taken to protect the bottle and heater from runaway calves and concerned mother cows. Locate the heating equipment away from the traffic pattern of your ropers and flankers. Check your equipment carefully for leaks, loose fittings and dirt before lighting a match. A wasp nest built in your burner outlet can add excitement to your branding and many dollars to your insurance premiums.

Some corriente breeders use an over-size branding heater to better accommodate their number irons.
Too many irons in the fire can result in uneven heating and a poor job of branding. Heat only the brand you need for each bunch of cattle and line them up in sequence in your heater. Check your iron for accumulated residue as the day goes on. You can’t make a clean mark with a dirty iron. A bucket of sand is handy to clean the gunk off a hot iron.

The modern way to brand is with an electric branding iron. Novice branders may find the electric iron easier to handle, and it is said that electric irons do not blot as easily as a steel iron. A nearby source of power and lots of 10 or 12 gauge cords are needed. Take care with your layout and locate your extension cords out of the path of the ropers, flankers and herd. A long-handled steel wire brush is the simplest way to clean an electric iron and can be carried in the brander’s hip pocket.

Applying the hot iron is the scary part for a beginning brander.
With a clean calf and a properly heated iron, this should be a very quick process. Heat the iron to a dull reddish glow. If the edge of the brand has turned bright red, your iron is too hot. Apply the brand with a firm hold and hold the iron steady until the hair beneath the iron burns away. Remove the iron if the hair catches fire, let the iron cool for a few seconds and reapply. Lift the iron and check the brand.

A properly applied brand should never break the skin. The finished brand should be a clear symbol, free of hair and slick in appearance. Old-time cowboys say that the branded hide should appear the color of saddle tan leather. That color may vary according to the color of the calf, a fresh brand on a black calf may look nearly black.

In a few weeks it’s normal for the brand to scab up and peel. Over the next few month’s the brand will gradually hair over. A properly applied brand will remain legible for the life of the animal. A heavy hair coat on a mature animal can sometimes make it difficult to read a brand. If this is the case, then a few quick passes with the livestock clippers will reveal your mark of ownership.


About the Author:
russell drury
Russell Drury, has been an NACA member and active Corriente breeder for 28 years. Besides ranching, he works for the USDA/Agricultural Research Service. He’s an all-around great guy who is just full of valuable information!