BRANDS Brands are one of the most interesting tools
used by livestock people. Each brand is by necessity different
than all the others and often conveys the character of the owner.
most popular feature is Livestock Brands. We would like
to enhance your experience here on this subject. Please
post your brand questions on our
with the agency in your state concerned with the registration
of brands for local regulations. It is usually the Department
origin of branding livestock dates from 2700 B.C.
Paintings in Egyptian tombs document branding oxen with hieroglyphics.
Ancient Greeks and Romans marked livestock and slaves with a
hot iron before. Hernando Cortez introduced
branding from Spain to the New World in 1541. He brought
cattle stamped with his mark of three crosses. There has
never been anything to take the place of a visible brand as
a permanent definitive mark of ownership and deterrent to theft.
Livestock people say "a brand's something that won't come off
in the wash."
The original Spanish brands
were, as a rule, complicated, and beautifully rich in design,
but not always practical. The early American ranchers wanted
designs that were easy to remember, easily made, that did
not blotch, and that were hard to alter.
Brands, both hot iron and
freeze brands, are recorded by state livestock agencies
in many states. In some states freeze brands are not valid
on cattle. The agencies also record the location you place
the brand on the
animal. You may not register a particular brand if the same
symbols and location have already been registered by someone
else in your area. It is important, not only to register a
brand correctly, but to keep it active. Like most registrations,
brand registrations do expire. Check with the agency
in your state concerned with the registration of brands for
local regulations. A number of states do not have
brand inspection systems. For instance, Texans register
brands in their county clerk's office and do not have a state-wide
agency overseeing the 254 counties. See
Texas information below. Horse brands and cattle brands
are often registered separately. BLM Mustangs have multi-character
freeze brands on the left side of their necks. Registered
Arabian horses have the same type of brand on the right side
of the neck. Thoroughbred
horses have registration numbers tattooed under their upper
lips. See our brands page two
is very important in proving ownership of lost or stolen
animals. An unbranded animal is called a "slick," and
is almost impossible to legally identify. No other way
is as easily visible as branding, not only for identification,
but as a deterrent to theft. Other methods such as implanted
computer chips are positive identification, if a new owner is
aware of them, but hot or freeze brands are highly visible
and hard to alter. "Trust your neighbors, but brand
In addition to a brand, a horse owner should have good identifying
photographs of their animals. If a horse is lost
or stolen, the owner should immediately contact local brand
authorities, slaughter houses and auction yards with brand information
and photographs showing distinguishing markings.
The most popular locations
for brands on horses are the left or right hip or the left or
right shoulder. Other less common locations are ribs,
stifles, and jaws. Cattle are usually branded on hips
Reading Brands For many new livestock owners,
the art of reading a brand is a mystery . Brands, to the inexperienced,
resemble hieroglyphics; to the experienced livestock person,
however, they become a readable language. With practice
and an understanding of some important brand terms, the average
person can easily acquire basic skills in reading brands.
Brands have a language all their own. That
language, like any other, follows certain rules. The ability
to read these symbols is referred to as "callin' the brand."
Brands are composed of capital letters of the alphabet, numerals,
pictures, and characters such as slash /,
circle O, half-circle
cross +, _bar,
etc., with many combinations and adaptations.
Letters can be used singly, joined, or in combinations.
They can be upright,
XIT ; lying down or "lazy,"
(lazy S); connected
V B connected) or combined,
(V B combined); reversed,
(reverse B); or hanging
(V hanging S). Figures or numbers are used in the
same way as the letters. Picture brands are
usually used alone, for example
(rising sun). There are three accepted rules
for reading brands.
1. Read from the left to the right as
ML (M L).
2. Read from the top to the bottom as
(bar m). 3. When the brand
is enclosed, it is read from the outside to the inside as(circle
The reading of a brand, especially the more
complicated ones, in one locality or state may not correspond
to the way it is read elsewhere.
with the influx of Mexican horses from south of the border,
we see a lot of odd, hard to read "scripty" brands, a little
reminiscent of the old elaborate Spanish brands. Many
of them look like they are applied with a "runnin' iron."
Unlike a pre-shaped, stamp style branding iron, a running iron
is a straight or curved piece of metal that is heated and then
the brand is drawn rather than just stamped on the animal.
Now let us examine a few brands: Y hanging 5 combined
The first step
in protecting your livestock is choosing a good brand. Choose
a brand that is distinctive and readily recognized. Your state's
brand inspector's office will help you to select a brand that
has your desired qualities within the limits imposed by current
brand laws. Be sure to record your chosen brand in your state's
brand inspection office. Unrecorded brands offer little or no
protection and add confusion.
There are a couple of things to consider
when choosing your brand. Choose as simple a brand
as possible. Today most new brands will need to be three
characters because there are so many already registered.
In fact, older single and two figured brands are often sold
with ranches, or even by themselves if they are not needed by
the original owners. They can command a good price.
When choosing the characters, try to avoid "closed" characters
since they are more prone to blotching. The smaller the
closed space, the more chance of blotching. The letter
C is an "open" character. So is the character "_" or bar.
The letters A and B and the number 8 are examples of closed
characters. The more simple the brand, the less likelihood
of it's blotching and being unsightly and hard to read.
When selling animals you should
protect yourself and others by insisting that the buyer takes
a complete, properly filled out bill of sale. Also require a
bill of sale when you buy livestock. On animals with more than
one brand, be prepared to offer proof of purchase. If you transfer
ownership of a registered brand, the state involved will usually
provide a bill of sale for that purpose if you request it.
Apply the brand properly. Most
states require a brand to be in a certain place on the animal's
body and of sufficient size to be readily seen. It should be
clearly and cleanly burned in with a hot iron or freeze branded.
Cattle branding irons should have a face at least 3/8 inches
wide. The letters, figures or characters should be four inches
in length. Make your brand as large as necessary. It is a myth
that big plain brands affect the sale price of cattle. Some
of the best sized brands regularly take top price on the market
and win show prizes.
Some horse owners do not like the idea of a brand "marring"
the looks of their animal, but when viewed properly a good legal
brand is one of the best gifts you can give your horse.
Many animal owners are not willing or
not equipped to correctly brand an animal. Your local
veterinarian or branding professional will be happy to assist
you if you need help. For those of you who are comfortable
with the process, the following guidelines are presented.
To make a clean brand, use a hot
iron. Do not allow the iron to get red-hot because that can
cause a hair fire and result in a poor brand. A properly heated
iron is the color of ashes. Do not use a forge or a coal fire.
Wood is the best fuel for a branding fire. Use of certain acids
or other similar agents that leave a scar instead of a brand
often cause a bad sore and result in an unreadable brand. Too
thin an iron will cut too deeply or make a thin scar that will
cover over with hair and will necessitate clipping to read.
Never try to brand a wet or damp animal.
The brand will scald, leaving a blotch, a bad sore, or no brand
at all. Don't put the iron in the hands of an amateur. In some
places, only the owner or foreman would handle the iron and
it was against all etiquette to brand another person's stock.
Never place a new brand over an existing brand.
Don't get tender hearted. The branding
iron must burn deep enough to burn the hair and the outer layer
of skin. When the branding iron is lifted, the brand should
be the color of saddle leather. Work as slowly and carefully
as necessary. The animal will bear the brand all its life and
you want it to always bring the animal home.
One question that is often asked is "My
animal has this brand. Where does the animal come from?"
or "What is his history?" The authority on brands in your area
is the local brand inspector. If you think a horse came
from a different area you can contact the brand inspection board
for the state that you are interested in. The brand
department is usually under the jurisdiction of the state's
department of agriculture.
These professionals have the records to
check to find out who owns the brand in question. Also,
if you find a strayed animal, the brand inspector can find the
correct owner. Conversely, if you lose an animal you should
contact the local brand inspector with the brand and description
of the lost animal. Some states, such as Arkansas, have
brand registration, but it is not mandatory and many brands
are not registered. In that case, the registered brand
takes precedence over a non-registered brand in case of a question
in ownership. In states without brand recording laws,
state livestock associations (like the state's cattlemen's association)
can often be helpful.
Links to find out about your
brand To help in your search for information
relating to state brands and brand laws, we provide the following
links to state departments of agriculture and other relevant
Check with the
agency in your state concerned with the registration of brands
for local regulations. Use
these links and the following contact information to find out
about your brand.
bar N brand on the left shoulder,-N
, is the brand of the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New
Mexico. That, along with the three character brand
on the animal's left hip designate the grazing permittee
that owns the stock. For more information
contact: Navajo Nation Veterinary
and Livestock Program (928) 871-6615
For questions regarding new brands, or brand transfers please
call 1-406-444-3812. For any other questions regarding
the brands department please call 1-406-444-2045. ALL MAIL
SHOULD ADDRESSED TO: DEPARTMENT OF LIVESTOCK BRANDS ENFORCEMENT
DIVISION PO BOX 202001 HELENA, MONTANA 59620-2001
The Montana Cattlemen’s
Association has recently compiled all of the registered
Livestock brands listed in Montana and have made this accessible
on our web site. There are approximately 54,000 brands registered
in the State of Montana. This is a completely searchable
data base. You may search by specie, county, brand position
or by characters of the brand or by brand owner. They say,
"We acknowledge the need for livestock identification and are
firm believers in our brand system, and hope that this will
aid the livestock industry in identifying branded animals from
our state. This is has been a very large and costly undertaking
and so we made this service available to our members, as we
are a non-profit organization. Anyone can join and the cost
is 50.00 per year. There are 3 free searches for you to try."
Here is the web address
New Mexico For Information
on New Mexico Brand Laws Contact the New Mexico
Livestock Board http://www.nmlbonline.com/ 300 San Mateo Blvd. NE Suite 1000 Albuquerque,
NM 87108-1500 (505) 841-6161 Main Number (505) 841-6160
STATE BRAND BOARD 413 S. Fort Street Pierre, South
Dakota 57501 Phone: (605) 773-3324
Texas The state of Texas records
brands by county. Texas brands are recorded with the county
clerk of the county in which the animals are located.
Each Texas county also sends a copy of the brand registration
Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, who enters
the brands into a database for retrieval by their officers /
inspectors, and can be used by other law Enforcement entities
in their theft investigations. Texas also stations over 70 inspectors
at livestock sales facilities around the state to monitor animals,
as well as sellers passing through these facilities.
The organization has jurisdiction in both Texas & Oklahoma
for its Law Enforcement functions, and Field Inspectors are
Commissioned in Texas & or Oklahoma, as Sworn Peace Officers.
The association is also the go-to agency for Texas Brand Inspection
documents for those animals traveling to or through mandatory
inspection states. Our thanks to
S. M. Clark, Brand Inspector with the TX & SW Cattle Raisers
Assn Law Enforcement / Inspections Division for providing this
Washington State Department
of Agriculture Livestock Identification Program
animal ID information: We have a system in place for
animal identification. Expand and empower what we have
on a state level. Why do we need a new Federal standard?
Here are some sites that focus on this issue. Please e-mail
with links or ideas.
External links are listed as a convenience. We
take no responsibility and give no guarantees or
warranties, implied or otherwise, for content or
accuracy of third-party sites. External sites are not
necessarily endorsed by Cowboy Showcase.