Many farmers rely on branding or marking livestock not only as a means of establishing ownership, but also to contain useful information, such as the animals’ birth dates and registration numbers.
Freeze-branding is a common practice for permanently marking livestock with a unique and recognisable symbol. The hair follicles are frozen at subzero temperatures, altering the appearance of the branded area in terms of both colour and texture.
Freeze-branding has several advantages over traditional hot branding, such as less pain and stress for the animals, better brand readability, and the ability to make elaborate and detailed designs.
What is the freeze-branding method?
The branding iron is dipped in liquid nitrogen or another similar substance and then pressed onto the animal’s skin for a few seconds.
Hair follicles lose their pigmentation in the extreme cold, leaving a white mark that is visible even after the hair has grown back. When compared to the more traditional method of hot branding, which causes pain and damage to the animal’s hide, freeze-branding is preferred.
Freeze-branding has become increasingly common in recent years as a humane and effective way to permanently mark animals with identification information. When branding animals, it is imperative that they always receive the utmost care and attention.
How much dry ice is typically used during the branding process?
One hundred head of cattle can be freeze-branded in three to four hours using nine kilogrammes of dry ice and 11,3 litres of 99% alcohol, according to a rule of thumb for dry ice freezebranding. About 23 to 34 kilogrammes of dry ice and 29 to 34 litres of ethanol are needed for a full day of freezebranding. Pieces of dry ice the size of eggs should be placed in a styrofoam container, or a metal cooler lined with styrofoam and covered with at least 8 centimetres of alcohol.
To create the desired identifying mark, a branding iron crafted from copper or brass should be chosen. The branding iron is cooled to a temperature of about -184 degrees Celsius using liquid nitrogen or dry ice. After chilling the branding iron, it is applied to the skin of the animal for a minute.
How does freeze-branding work?
The animal should be restrained (in a suitable clamp), and the branding area should be clipped, cleaned, and sprayed with rubbing alcohol before the branding irons are applied. Clipping has two functions: It removes the protective hair from the hide, and acts as a visual guide for where to place the brand. The branding iron only needs to be applied for a short time if the hair is clipped short enough.
After applying the iron to the skin and removing it, you will see a noticeable indentation that fades away after about five minutes. After this, the mark will no longer be visible, and in 30 to 40 days, the white or grey hair will start to grow out.
Damage to the cells that produce pigment at such low temperatures explains why such extreme cold leaves a mark that is white or very pale in colour. The animal needs to recover in a quiet, stress-free setting after the procedure.
Why does the hair change colour after freeze-branding or become bold in light coloured-animals?
A mammal’s coat colour can be permanently changed through freezebranding, leaving the branded region white for the rest of the animal’s life. As the growth root pulls the hair out of the follicle, ice crystals begin to form inside melanocytes, the cells that typically cover the hair shaft with colour. The microtubules that carry melanin granules from a cell’s inside to its membrane, where they typically undergo exocytosis, are physically harmed by this ice. After the cells thaw, the cellular machinery is irreparably harmed, which prevents the surviving melanocytes from ever again secreting melanin. Most melanocytes fail to regenerate and enter apoptosis quickly.
Light-coloured animals require a longer branding period to kill the deepest portion of the follicle, which secretes the actual hair shaft. The result is a bald area of skin that is often darker than the animal’s coat and prevents any hair regrowth. High contrast is thus guaranteed, even on white-coated animals, thanks to freeze-branding. The time difference between the two branding techniques is negligible, frequently only a few seconds.
Tools and materials required for freeze-branding:
- At least two individuals responsible for branding and scheduling;
- Liquid nitrogen or ethanol (usually 99%) chilled with dry ice serves as the typical liquid coolant;
- Individual animal restraint equipment, such as a neck clamp or squeeze chute;
- The area to be branded must be shaved with manual or electric hair clippers before the branding iron can make skin contact, so you might need access to an electrical source as well;
- A brush for grooming the coat;
- Alcohol wipes to disinfect the branding area;
- Symbolled, freeze-branding irons (branding irons should be made of pure copper but are more commonly made of a cupronickel alloy) with which to identify livestock; and
- A brand timing device (clock or stopwatch).
What is the procedure for freeze-branding?
- Wait 20 minutes before using the branding irons for the first time, for them to cool down.
- Branded animals should either be confined in a small, confined area or, better yet, restrained in a neck clamp. This will aid in keeping the animal calm while handling.
- The intended marking area should be shaved. After a few minutes, or when the branding irons reach a temperature of -147 degrees Celsius, remove them from the container and set them aside.
- Wipe the freshly shaved area where the brand will be with rubbing alcohol to remove any oils or dirt that may prevent the iron from making good contact with the skin.
- The period of time needed for skin contact varies with the animal’s colour. If you want to make sure the branding iron is used for the right period of time, you will need a timer.
- The branding iron should make skin contact for 55 seconds on dark-coloured animals and 70 seconds on light-coloured ones.
- Cool the iron for at least 2 minutes in between uses if you need to use it twice.
- The skin should feel moderate pressure from the entire branding iron. If the animal moves or the iron loses contact with the skin, stop the timer, readjust the iron’s position, and resume the process.
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 https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/bot65796.pdf for further reading.
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.
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 https://nammic.com.na/how-to-brand-livestock/ and https://www.van.org.na/pdf/Stock%20Brands%20Regulations.pdf 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 https://www.swmprogramme.info/legal-hub/zimbabwe/animal-production for further reading.
Wikipedia contributors. (2023). Freeze brand. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Freeze_brand&oldid=1173512724
Livestock Identification Services Ltd. (no date) Applying brands. Available at: https://lis-ab.com/brands/applying-brands/
Rhinehart, J. (2020) Freeze branding beef cattle. University of Tennessee System, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Available at: https://utbeef.tennessee.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/127/2020/11/SP775.pdf