The livestock industry commonly uses hot branding or freeze branding to identify and mark cattle. Despite their similarity in that both methods leave a permanent mark on the animal’s hide, there are important differences between the two. Hot branding, also known as fire branding, is the practise of permanently marking an animal’s skin with a heated iron.

Freeze branding, on the other hand, accomplishes the same goal by subjecting the hide to subzero temperatures. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks, with the choice ultimately being determined by factors like the farmer’s budget and available equipment, the animal’s species, age, size, and the reason for branding. Animals experience more pain during hot branding because the heat causes burns and other discomfort. Freeze branding, alternatively, is less stressful for the animal because it numbs the area being branded. However, unlike hot branding, freeze branding requires the use of liquid nitrogen and specialised equipment, which adds both cost and time to the process. In the next part of the series, we shall dive deeper into the topic of freeze branding.

An animal that has been branded with a hot iron. The letters are a rich, golden brown colour after branding. (Source: petersonsl7bar. com)

What does hot branding entail?

Hot branding involves using a branding iron heated to a very high temperature to brand


an animal’s skin. This results in permanent damage to the hair follicles and leaves an identifiable scar.

Hot branding is a centuries-old practise that represents ownership and individuality. However, a farmer should think about how the animal will behave during the procedure to any unnecessary suffering or pain. Like any other branding procedure, this method requires careful attention to the animal’s comfort and pain management. Before the hot branding process, the area can be numbed with local anaesthesia by a veterinarian. In addition, it is crucial to take aftercare measures like applying soothing ointments and checking on the progress of the healing process.

What a farmer needs for hot branding

Make sure you check the laws of your country first before branding your livestock. Before you start branding, make sure you have taken care of the necessary paperwork to register your identification numbers and branding characters. Every branding iron needs to be crafted from sturdy steel that will not melt under the intense heat. The rod should be about 1,3 centimetres in diameter and the handle should be 1,3 metres long from the iron’s head to the handle loop. When not in use, branding irons should be stored in a dry place.

A scab forms on the burned region and comes off a few weeks after an animal has been branded. Even if hair grows out through the branded area, the mark will be clearly visible. (Source:

Maintain the smoothness and cleanliness of the iron head by using a wire brush or file. Branding iron faces should be 1,3 centimetres thick and 5 centimetres deep. Slim down the branded surface’s front to a thickness of one centimetre. A scorching face that is too narrow will not affect enough hair follicles to be seen after hairing over. The corners and edges of the logotype should also be rounded. If you round your face, it will appear narrower, but the centre of your face will still be slightly higher and concave after you burn it.

(Image dedicated to the beautiful Reeba Brahman stud)

Step-by-step method for hot branding:

  • Use proper restraints to keep the animal and the person performing the branding as safe as possible. The animal can be contained with a head clamp or crushpen.
  • Long-haired cattle should have their hair clipped before being branded so that the process goes more quickly.
  • Drawing a line with your finger on the animal’s fur will help you align the characters.
  • A fire or gas-powered branding iron heater is used to preheat the branding iron. After being heated to the usual branding iron temperature of 500 ºC, the iron should be an ash grey colour rather than a bright red.
  • Once the branding iron has reached the appropriate temperature, it is used to brand the animal directly on the skin in the location mandated by local law.
  • Branding requires a firm press and a slight jiggle of the handle to evenly distribute the character. By rocking the handle, you can adjust the burn time so that the entire surface is evenly heated, usually between three and five seconds. The iron will bring out a golden brown colour in the hide.
  • The skin of the animal can be cooled by spraying it with cold water. Oil for wounds can be sprayed onto the burn mark.

Do not try to remove the stain by wiping it or rubbing dung into it. Recovery and the avoidance of complications depend on close observation at regular intervals. Infection can occur at the branding site, so it is important to monitor it for redness, swelling, and discharge. The skin of the animal must be kept clean and dry to avoid further irritation and infection. It is essential to seek the advice of a veterinarian if complications arise during the healing process. Overall, the animal’s well-being and recovery can be ensured with the right care and monitoring after branding.

Branding irons and a branding box heated by gas. (Source:

Please use the links below for guidelines on branding livestock:

Botswana – Zonal branding areas

The President of Botswana has the authority to designate specific geographic areas within the country as “zonal branding areas” via an order published in the Gazette and has the additional authority to designate a specific letter of the alphabet as the “zonal symbol” for each such area. Cattle must be branded with a unique symbol for each zone. The first symbol must be placed on the left side of the neck, as close to the jaw angle as possible. The subsequent signs are to be positioned along a line from the jaw angle to the shoulder point. Each symbol needs to be positioned as close as possible to the one before it. If there is not enough room for more symbols on the left side of the neck, they should be placed in the same position on the right. Please see  for further reading.

Overheating the branding iron or holding it to the skin for too long will burn the skin surrounding the intended character, making it difficult to read. (Source:


Cattle branding:

Branding is required for all cattle over the age of six months, or younger if they are transported before that age. Within 30 days of a purchase or gift of an animal, the new owner must have the animal branded with his stock brand. It is mandatory to brand a “N” on the left cheek of any cattle destined for export.

The temperature of the branding iron determines how long it must be held against the skin of an animal. A temporary hair brand is all that will remain if the branding iron is not hot enough or is not held against the animal long enough. (Source:

Branding stud animals:

Brands registered with the Namibian Stud Breeders Association must be used on all stud animals. It is required that a stud breeding animal with a stud brand be rebranded with the owner’s commercial brand before it is culled, cancelled, or sold as commercial livestock.

Sheep, goats and pigs:

No brands are put on sheep, goats, or pigs. Tattoos on a pig’s ears serve as a unique identifier. Ear tags with the owner’s stock brand number are used to identify sheep and goats. If a farmer plans on moving his sheep, goats, or pigs before they turn three months old, he must have them microchipped. Goats and sheep must also be branded on the left cheek when being imported or exported. Please see  and  for further reading.


Cattle are identified by branding on the left side of the neck and by ear tags in accordance with the law. According to the Zimbabwe Cattle Traceability Scheme, these animals need to be marked no later than 20 days after birth. Please see  for further reading.


Mann, J. and Pienaar, A. (2010) Hot iron branding for beef cattle, Animal Science. Available at:

Livestock Identification Services Ltd. (no date) Applying brands. Available at: