Originally written by Taylor Grussing, former SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.
Identifying ownership of cattle is important not only for effective record keeping, but also in the case one finds the low spot in the fence and proceeds to visiting the neighbors. In addition to proving ownership, some permanent forms of ID are required by breed registrations such as tattoos and specific numbering systems. These individual ID numbers can be made visible through the use of ear tags, hot brands and freeze brands. While ear tags can be small and hot brands difficult to read, freeze branding provides a larger and clearer method to identifying cattle from a distance. While only effective on dark hided cattle (black and red), this low stress permanent method of identification has specific supplies and steps ensuring its efficacy. Here we will discuss how to successfully freeze brand cattle.
- Freeze branding irons (4 inches tall; 2 sets of 0 -9 and alphabet as needed)
- Isopropyl alcohol (99% pure) and spray bottle
- Dry Ice
- Straight edge clippers, oil, curry comb, bristle brush and livestock blower
- Large heavy-duty cooler with cover
- Leather gloves
- Extension cords
- Kitchen timer of clock with second hand
- Assign: Determine the number of head that will be freeze branded. Assign individual ID numbers to each animal to eliminate duplicates.
- Order: Order enough dry ice (0.5 lbs/head) and isopropyl alcohol (1 pint/head) for the number of animals you will do in one day. Ice will last longer in cool and calm conditions vs. warm and breezy, so order accordingly depending on the time of year you are freeze branding.
- Where: Select location to put freeze brand. On the hip or over the ribs are common locations as they are relatively flat. Hip brands may be easier as there is more flesh naturally present vs. ribs of thin animals which may pose more uneven flesh and surface area.
- When: Select a low stress time to freeze brand and avoid scheduling during pregnancy. Replacement heifers are an easy group to start with each year prior to their first breeding season and cows can be done prior to pasture turn out at calf processing if needed.
- Place irons in heavy-duty cooler.
- Pour Isopropyl Alcohol over irons until the numbers are entirely covered.
- Add dry ice chunks to the solution carefully until it stops bubbling, keeping ice covered at all times.
- Allow solution to cool for 45 minutes before branding.
- Load animal into the chute and restrain with squeeze and tail bar to reduce movement. Make sure animal is standing square to eliminate crooked brands.
- Use clippers to clip area in a rectangular manner for brand. Blow out dirt with livestock blower and brush out excess dirt from hair with curry comb or bristle brush.
- Using spray bottle, soak clipped area with alcohol.
- Match the animal number with desired freeze brand number and locate irons in the cooler.
- Pull desired iron from cooler and place straight onto animal, applying constant steady pressure. (Slightly rock the irons to increase pressure on the entire surface, but do not rock too much).
- Once the iron is on the animal, start a timer for 55 seconds. (If the animal jumps and causes irons to fall off, add a few seconds at the end. 60 seconds is better than 50).
- Remove iron after 55 seconds and soak skin with alcohol before placing the next iron on.
- A good brand will leave a frozen indentation on the skin. This brand should start to peel in 3 – 4 weeks and white hair will grow in over the next few months.
- After all animals are freeze branded, set irons aside to warm up before storing and discard dry ice and alcohol solution by pouring into dirt area. Remaining clean alcohol can be saved for future freeze branding groups.
- Have plenty of help so the same team of people can clip, time and place freeze brands on the entire group of cattle in order to maintain brand consistency.
- If freeze brands do not match ear tags, remove ear tag at branding and replace with matching number to avoid record keeping mistakes.
- Avoid using the same iron on back to back animals. Having 2 – 3 sets of irons will allow each iron to cool down in the dry ice/ alcohol solution for 5 minutes in between animals.
- Work in a chute that is out of the wind to avoid altering the temperature of the irons. If the weather is warm, irons may need to stay on the hide longer to get desired results.
- After the freeze brand shows up, readability is increased if clipped once per year. This is common prior to calving when cattle are being worked through the chute.
While not effective on white cattle, freeze branding is a low stress way to add permanent identification to cattle that will elicit minimal hide damage. Freeze branding can also be used as a marketing tool to increase eye appeal and value of replacement heifers or bred females for sale. This time consuming task can be a long process, but with patience and attention to detail high quality freeze brands will appear bright white!
South Dakota State University Extension’s Taylor Grussing discusses freeze branding, including what it is, why it’s better, and what you need to do it.