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.
Cold irons are used to destroy the hair follicles on the hide so that re-growth is white.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.