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June 28, 2017

What’s in a Brand? The History of Cattle Branding

The history of cattle branding is one that goes back many centuries and spans different cultures.

There are few parts of the cattle industry that are as recognizable as cattle branding, also called livestock branding, and the history of cattle branding is a fascinating one. If you’ve ever wondered ‘why do we brand cattle?’ then explore our topline summary of cattle branding history below.

What is a Cattle Brand?

A cattle brand is a design that is seared into the hide of an animal, such as cattle or other livestock, usually around the hip, to identify the owner of the animals. Each brand is distinct, so that lost cows—either through wandering animals or cattle rustlers–could be returned to their rightful owner. Besides tattooing, branding is the only marking that will last an animal’s life span.

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History of Cattle Branding: Ancient Livestock Branding

Livestock branding has been going on for at least 4,700 years, and likely longer. According to a article, an ancient Egyptian tomb painting depicting a cattle roundup and branding from 2700 BC is the earliest record of livestock branding. There are also allusions to the practice in Roman literature and in the Bible, namely with Jacob the herdsman.

Cattle were introduced to the Americas by Spanish explorers, and the tradition of cattle branding came as well. According to a piece by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), the three Latin crosses of the brand of Hernán Cortés, a conquistador in southern Mexico in the 1500s, may well be the first brand to be used in the Western Hemisphere.

The practice was soon taken up by cattle owners throughout the Americas, but it was made well-known by the cowboys of the American West. According to the TSHA piece, early Anglo-American Texan ranchers utilized the alphabet for their brands, as opposed to the pictographs with meaningful curlicues and adornments used by Spanish and Mexican ranchers. The branding practice developed to the point where it almost has its own language and meaning.

Keeping records of brands began in Mexico by the Spanish in the 1500s, and the earliest recording in Texas is believed to be of Richard H. Chisholm, registered in Gonzales County in 1832, according to the TSHA article.

History of Cattle Branding: Modern Livestock Branding

Today, some ranchers still utilize cattle branding to mark their stock, much like they did in the 1800s. It’s part of the rich history and culture of the cattle ranching way of life. Advancements in cattle branding include the use of an electric brander; the metal is heated with electricity rather than fire. Some ranchers rely solely on ear tags to identify individual animals and to prove ownership. However, ear tags have the drawbacks of getting lost by the animal’s movement or being removed and replaced by thieves.

One other option some ranchers are turning to is freeze branding. Liquid nitrogen or denatured alcohol and dry ice are used to cool branding irons, which are then applied to the animal’s hide. Rather than burning the skin, freeze branding actually destroys the natural pigmentation of the animal’s hair, making the hair of the branded area grow in white. According to a article on the process, freeze branding has been shown to create less discomfort in the animal than heat branding, which is an important consideration in animal health.

Finance Your Operation With a Custom Cattle Loan

AgAmerica Lending supports the rich history of cattle ranching. We understand the ups and downs of a cattle operation, making us the perfect partner to help cattle ranchers find financial solutions to reach their goals. Contact us today to speak with one of our cattle loan and land loan specialists to talk about how we can help your operation grow.

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