1. Why is freeze branding important for Angus Australia members?
Freeze branding is a great way of permanently identifying black Angus cattle. Individual animal identification is fundamental to accurate pedigree and performance recording.
Therefore to record animals in Angus Australia’s Herd Book Register or the Angus Performance Register the animal needs to have one form of permanent identification by weaning and a second form by 18 months of age.
2. What is freeze branding?
Cold irons are used to destroy the hair follicles on the hide so that re-growth is white.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of freeze branding, compared to other methods of permanently identifying cattle?
Cannot be removed or lost. It is therefore particularly practical for bulls, which tend to have a higher loss of NLIS tags due to fighting.
Is an easy management identifier when cattle are in the paddock. Freeze brands can be clearly seen from a distance (up to 50 metres away). This eliminates the need to run cattle into the yards to identify them with a tattoo or electronic reader if they have lost their management tag. Freeze brands make A.I. program heat detection easier.
Relatively painless (compared with fire branding). Freeze branding is listed in “The Cattle Code” as one of the preferred methods of identifying cattle from a welfare perspective. Reduces hide damage (compared with fire branding).
Reduces potential OH & S risks associated with reading tattoos where a good head bail is not available.
Gives you brand recognition.
It takes time. With an experienced operator, reasonable facilities and two people you can generally brand approximately 15 animals per hour with four letters/numbers.
Cattle need to be big enough and in good enough condition to fit a brand. Tattooing can be done at a much younger age.
Not foolproof. Results may be variable, depending on the technique applied. Tattooing calves is easier if you are wanting to do the job yourself. However they find freeze branding easier as most people use a contractor who will bring the brands and necessary equipment. This avoids the effort of applying the brands (it is demanding work) and reduces the risk of the brand not being legible. There is a real skill and art to applying freeze brands well and a botched brand does not identify or promote a beast to your clientele.
4. When should I apply a freeze brand?
You can apply a freeze brand as soon as the animal is big enough to fit the brand on and in good enough condition. You need quite a large flat surface for the brands to sit evenly on. Often weaner cattle do not have adequate rump space for a property brand and identifying year letter and numbers. However when freeze brands are used on young animals the brand grows with the animal and results in a larger, more readable brand on adult animals.
Many people wait a bit longer. Most people apply the brands to yearlings or prior to sales. Angus Australia regulations stipulate that animals recorded in the Herd Book Register and Angus Performance Register need to have a second form of permanent identification by 18 months of age. If you leave your freeze branding until later you need to use another form of permanent identification such as NLIS tags or tattoo to make sure you don’t lose identity of the cattle before they are branded.
The age at which you are best to freeze brand may also be influenced by the availability of adequate restraint (e.g. a good crush) to reduce movement and therefore reduce the risk of an illegible brand.
In addition to age, condition should be considered when deciding on freeze brand timing. Thin cattle are much harder to brand and the end result is poor.
In cold climates branding in autumn and winter usually requires a longer application, but can still be very effective.
5. How soon can the brands be read?
The first day after branding, the skin swells producing a welt in an outline of the brand. This persists for one to three days, depending on the time the branding iron was applied for. In two to three weeks the brand will form a scab and peel.
Six to ten weeks after branding, unpigmented (white) hair will replace the scab. If you freeze brand when a new hair coat is starting, e.g. spring, the brand will appear more rapidly.
6. What do you need?
If you are registering cattle with Angus Australia you need to apply a property brand as well as the year letter and identifying number. The property brand provides added value through brand recognition when cattle are sold. Because of the slow process of cooling the brands prior to re-use and applying them, you need a minimum of two full sets of numbers and the various appropriate year letters. It is a fairly costly process to purchase individual brands and a full set becomes quite an investment. Most people opt to use a contractor who will bring the appropriate brands.
Fire brands do not give a good uniform result if used for freeze branding. The brand may not appear at all or they can apply too much pressure and cold and result in a scar similar to an ordinary fire brand. Most fire brands are too small and narrow to produce a legible result.
Freeze brands are made from a special copper or copper-alloy (i.e. brass or bronze) designed to uniformly hold the cold for a longer time period. They are usually thicker and have rounded edges to avoid damaging the hide. They should be 3 to 4 inches tall, 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick and 1 inch deep. Shorter handles (approximately 40 cm) are more convenient than those used for fire branding. Non-conductive material (e.g. wood) is used for the handle grip.
Good cattle handling facilities
Freeze brands are applied for much longer periods of time than fire brands and require the animal to be well restrained to avoid movement. This can cause the brand to be unreadable. A good crush (ideally a squeeze crush) with side access and a strong head gate is needed for efficient and effective branding, particularly if the cattle have not been handled much.
If you do the freeze branding yourself –
In addition to the equipment listed above you need:
– Coolant dry ice + denatured alcohol (e.g. methylated spirits) OR liquid nitrogen are used.
Although it takes a bit longer many people prefer the dry ice and alcohol combination because the brands remain colder longer. This can produce better results. It is also less expensive and a little less dangerous to transport and handle. Up to two 2-kg blocks of dry ice may be required to initially super-chill a branding iron, and somewhat less to re-chill the branding iron for successive freeze branding. Allowance should be made for up to 0.5 kg of dry ice and 0.5 litre of alcohol to freeze brand an animal.
Because liquid nitrogen is colder you need to take great care not to leave the irons on the animal too long. Leaving the irons on too long will kill the hair follicles and create a brand similar to a hot brand. Non-pressurised vacuum flasks are required for safe transport and storage. They can be purchased from gas supply stores.
Both forms of coolant require an insulated (non-heat conductive) container to hold the coolant and branding irons in. A small Styrofoam or hard plastic ‘esky’ is suitable, but should be placed within an outside (second) container due to the risk of cracking.
– Curry comb
– Alcohol to wet the animals skin with prior to branding and hand-spray or squeeze bottle to apply with
– Pacifier– A 13 mm steel rod with rounded edges and the end bent up into a hook works extremely well when placed into an animal’s mouth during the branding process. Electrode type immobilization is inappropriate and illegal in most states due to animal welfare concerns.
– Ideally two people
7. How do you do it ?
Don’t freeze brand when it is rainy, windy or humid. In these conditions the irons change temperature rapidly, hindering effects.
Place branding irons in liquid nitrogen or dry ice/alcohol. The heads of the irons should be covered by at least one inch. cause of the risk of burning the skin rather than damaging the hair follicles. Clipping a neat square gives you a border in which to place your irons, increasing the likelihood of a straight more attractive brand.
Allow 15 to 20 minutes for the irons to cool. When frost has built up on the base of the handle of the iron the brands are cold enough.
Secure animal in squeeze chute.
Brush intended brand location to remove all debris & loose hair.
Clip brand location to ensure good contact between the iron and the hide. It’s important to not take too much hair off because of the risk of burning the skin rather than damaging the hair follicles. Clipping a neat square gives you a border in which to place your irons, increasing the likelihood of a straight more attractive brand.
Brush brand location a second time to remove loose hair.
Saturate brand location with room-temperature alcohol, using a spray or sqeeze bottle.
Immediately after apply the brand and set the timer. If dry ice is being used approximately 40-45 seconds is required. As it is colder liquid nitrogen requires only approximately 15 seconds on Angus cattle. The preferred location is on the animal’s rump; between the hook or hip bone and the pin bones. Numbers should be double-checked each time. It is easy for numbers to be heard incorrectly in noisy cattle yards.
Make sure that the iron is free of debris and place back in coolant.
Allow a minimum of two minutes for irons to cool before using again.
After the freeze branding is complete, recycle unused coolant. If dry ice – alcohol has been used, let the alcohol stand overnight in a well ventilated area before replacing in a container. If liquid nitrogen has been used, the unused portion may be carefully poured back into the original transport container. Beware of back-splashes into the eyes.
8. What about mistakes?
Avoiding mistakes is usually a combination of using a skilled operator, using the appropriate freeze branding gear and having good humane restraint of the animal.
If the animal moves and you lose brand skin contact, you can usually see where the brand has been. Try and reapply the brand in the exact same position. If you don’t have good facilities this can be difficult. The most important thing to do if an animal moves is to look at the timer as you lose contact, so that you know how much longer the brand needs to be reapplied for. If you don’t do this and the iron isn’t on for long enough the brand may not come out. If applied for too long the hide may be damaged and a scar result.
With freeze branding you can’t see if there is a problem until well after applying the brand. Usually you have to wait a full hair coat season to see if the brand worked. If it has to be reapplied the animal has usually grown, therefore the brand no longer fits into the same area.
9. How do I get my own property brand?
Stock branding is legislated in all states/territories except Victoria. You must be using a brand or symbol that has been registered to the particular property and it is an offence to apply an unregistered brand or to apply it in the wrong position.
To obtain a brand for your cattle, contact your local state authority that holds the responsibility for issuing brands. This may be a symbol or combination of numbers or letters. You can not use a brand design that has been registered to someone else. In most states you should contact your local Department of Primary Industries or in NSW contact your local Livestock Health and Pest Authority (LHPA), previously known as the Rural Lands Protection Board. The authority will also tell you the position that you are able to apply the registered brand, which varies between states. The brand design should also be registered with Angus Australia. As the brand mark must be unique, please advise Angus Australi of your intended mark before you have a brand made or applied to any animals.
Once you have registered a brand the local authority will give you the appropriate paperwork including the design and dimensions that you can then give to an ironmonger or forge to have the brand constructed. Usually if you ask the brand authority, they will have a list of businesses that make up brands or alternatively contact Angus Australia. The prices will vary according to the size and complexity of the design. Simple brands turn out best.
Angus Australia gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following professionals:
Colin Keevers, Alumy Creek Angus;
John Pickford and Colin Kendall, Nationwide Artificial Breeders.