Applying Brands: Hot Iron Branding

The Right Way To Brand

When an iron is the right temperature, it takes three to five seconds to apply a brand to cattle with a light hair cover. Cattle with extensive hair growth should be clipped before branding, otherwise, it will take longer than necessary to apply the brand.
Branding can be done quickly by pressing firmly and rocking the handle slightly to apply the character evenly. Rocking the handle will prevent over-burn or under-burn in any one spot. When the iron is lifted, the hide should be a buckskin colour.
If the branding iron is lifted too soon, it will leave a temporary brand that will disappear entirely when the animal changes hair. If the iron needs to be applied a second time, apply it in the exact position of the first design. Holding the iron on too long causes unnecessary pain and excessive burning. It also produces a wound that takes a long time to heal.
Don’t brand livestock when their hair is damp or wet. A branding iron applied to wet hide loses its heat fast, scalding rather than burning the branded area.
To apply a good brand, prevent the animals from moving as much as possible. This can be done by using a cattle squeeze or manually wrestling them to the ground. It is best to brand calves using manual wrestling or a calf table. For older cattle, use a squeeze with an opening large enough to both apply the brand properly and avoid crowding the irons on the animal.
The photo to the left displays the result of branding over another brand.
Don’t brand over top of another brand. This can be avoided by clipping the hair from the location where your brand is to be applied. If a brand already exists, apply your brand above, below, behind or in front of the existing brand.
Your brand cannot be applied to another position on the animal (the rib instead of the shoulder, for example) as it may be registered to someone else in that position.

How To Heat Branding Irons

Best Methods for Satisfactory Results
Solid, dry wood is the best fuel for heating branding irons. To contain a good bed of coals, dig a small pit in the ground 3 feet long, 1-1/2 feet wide and 10 inches deep. Use wood more than 3 feet long, and place the wood the long way over top of the pit. Build a bigger fire than is needed and allow it to burn down until a bed of red-hot coals is gathered in the bottom of the pit. Keep the branding irons on top of the coals and not in the flames of the fire.
Another satisfactory method for heating branding irons is to use a propane bottle and burner. It is recommended that you use a steel drum or round pipe to contain the heat thrown by the burner. Place the irons in the steel drum or pipe – the heat will be concentrated somewhat within the pipe. This type if heat is clean, easy to move and store and doesn’t leave a messy site.

The image to the right displays a round pipe is used to contain heat.
An oven constructed from brick or cement can also be used. This type of oven is usually fuelled by natural gas. Natural gas tends to burn out irons quickly. These ovens are permanent fixtures. They should only be built one in a location - where a continuous volume of cattle is to be branded.

Degree of Heat

Look for the Right Indicators
The colour of the iron indicates whether an iron is hot enough to apply a good brand. A black iron is too cold. It may be hot enough to burn the hair, but it won’t be hot enough to deform the roots of the hair follicles. This is essential for a permanent brand. A red iron is too hot. An iron the colour of grey ashes is the proper temperature for branding.

The photo to the left illustrates a red-hot iron causes a hair fire, causing a blotched brand.
Copper irons are different. Copper irons will not look grey, but will show their natural dull copper colour when hot. However, copper irons collect carbon and appear black when they are cold.

Electric Branding Irons

Safely Applying Modern Methods
Using electrically-heated irons has become more common in recent years. Electric irons are completely satisfactory if each character is the recommended size and on a separate handle or offset on the same handle. A heavy extension cord and a good power source are required to provide sufficient heat to the iron.
Electric irons are expensive. Because of the cost, people tend to cluster two or three characters on one handle or heating element to reduce the cost. Doing so results in characters that are too small and too close together. If several characters are clustered on one handle, you are less likely to rock the iron to obtain a distinct outline of each character. However, if they are constructed properly, electric irons work well.
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