Drowsy Water

Friday, October 16, 2009

FAQ: How do you brand a horse on a Colorado Dude Ranch?

People might think that ranchers are not too quick, seeing as they live in the boonies and all. But that is not true. Not at all. In a lot of ways, ranching is just one giant science experiment. From figuring the best grasses for hay to building their own drainages and roads, ranchers have been doing science experiments for eons.

Being a nerdy scientist myself, this has been a wonderful thing to learn about ranching. This FAQ--How do you brand a horse? -- is a prime example of a rancher science experiment. I'll walk you through the definition and the procedure.

A brand is used to identify the owner of livestock animal and protects against fraud and theft. Freeze branding is how we brand our horses here at Drowsy Water Ranch. Most of our horses have a white symbol or two on their left shoulder. That is a freeze brand. The freeze branding process produces white hair by destroying pigment-forming cells of the hair follicle.

Freeze branding is different than hot iron branding in a few ways. First, like the name implies, freeze branding is achieved by extensive cooling where hot iron branding is achieved by extensive heating. Ranchers freeze brand horses because it is less painful than hot iron branding and because the hide of the horse is so thin that a hot iron brand often injures the horse.

Okay, you nerdy scientist, you want to try to do this at home? While there is really no reason why you can't try this little experiment at home, I have to mention a few things. First, in most states, in order to brand a horse you must have a state registered brand. It is a big no-no to brand a horse with an unregistered brand. Actually, it's usually illegal.

Second, freeze branding is safe, economical, and is relatively painless. It produces lasting results that discourage horse thieves and fraudulent practices. But, if you don't have a brand and a horse to try this on, this doesn't mean you can try to brand your dog, or, worse yet, your little sister.

As the youngest of three kids, I was the subject of countless science experiments. I can tell you, for a fact, that, yes, cat medicine does taste sorta like Pepto-Bismol, and, no, it doesn't actually hurt if the toilet is flushed while your head is inside the bowl. I'm glad that my siblings didn't find out about this one and I don't have a permanent brand anywhere on my body. Please do not try to freeze brand another human being.

Okay, here we go. To do your own freeze brand at home you will need:
  • Branding Iron: Irons made from brass or copper work best because they hold the cold better.
  • Coolant: We use dry ice. It is cheap and readily available. You can also use liquid nitrogen, if you can find it.
  • Container for Coolant: We just use a little lunch-sized cooler. It needs to be big enough to hold the dry ice and enough alcohol to cover the dry ice.
  • Clippers: The branding site is shaved first to get as close to the hair follicle as possible.
  • Bottle with 99% alcohol: Preferably a squirt bottle to clean the brand site. Alcohol also aids in the transfer of cold to the skin. We also use the alcohol in the cooler with the dry ice.
  • Stopwatch: For tracking the time the iron is applied to the skin.
  • Gloves: These are optional (you'll notice Justin doesn't wear them), but probably safest.
  • Handlers: At least three people works best. One holds the horse, one brands, and one times.
Now for the procedure:
  • Restrain horse: Most of our horses can just be put in a halter. Some horses may require a twitch, a chute, or even tranquilizers.
  • Prepare coolant and branding iron: Place dry ice in cooler and cover with water. Insert branding iron to cooler so the brand face is covered. Let sit for around five minutes or until the liquid ceases bubbling.
  • Prepare brand site: Clip a square shape larger than the face of the branding iron on the horses left shoulder. Using a nice square or rectangle clipping site will help with brand alignment.
  • Prepare timer: Holler at the timer person "you ready?"
  • Cover brand site with alcohol: This removes oil from the skin and helps transfer cold from iron to skin.
  • Apply brand: Immediately after alcohol application, apply branding iron to brand site and simultaneously begin timing. Hold the brand on the site for 90 seconds. You may gently rock the branding iron slightly during application but do not wrinkle the skin.

  • Sit back and watch: Now you just get to watch the final product materialize. At first, the site will appear indented. Within a few minutes the site will become slightly swelled. In a month or two, the top layer of skin sheds and white hair starts growing in. After about four months, hair growth is complete and you should see a neat white brand.
Congratulations! You've completed a freeze brand.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see the horses aren't hurt too much by the process. Can you still see the marks on the white horses?

December 18, 2008 at 4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While you cannot see the brand on the grey "white" horses everyday you can see the brand on most the grey horses when they are wet or if you shave the branded area. Brand Inspectors are state officials who are trained to see brands in order to follow the ownership of the horse or cow. They typically look long and hard at grey horses since the brands are not too obvious. Chief, Navajo, Frankie, Tough and Toby and a few grey horses we have where the brand does not show up well.

While our brand the lazy K quarter circle is registered for the front left shoulder on horses we will brand a horse in a slightly different area if the brand will show up better. A good percentage of our paint horses have been branded on the chest or higher on the shoulder than we typically would like too so the brand will show up. Storm and Bojangles are two good examples.

December 19, 2008 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger Clint said...

what's the name of this horse?

December 19, 2008 at 12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howdy Clint,
The names of the horses from the top to bottom are: Sal, Lady and all the other photos are of Biscuit. Biscuit is a big horse about the size of Gus.

December 20, 2008 at 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

howdy, was researching ways to do a self branding as a form of body art, and came across your page here, i was wondering what kind of lasting results this method would have as opposed to a regular brand... such as scaring .. in order to see the brand design, will this method produce the same results? or does it just turn the hair white in the area affected? any information would be appreciated.. please send to madcapmagician@netzero.net =) thanx for this interesting article.

June 10, 2010 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Nemo said...


Just FYI, if you want the brand to show up on a gray "white", or albino horse you can leave the branding iron on longer (40 to 50 seconds) and it will kill the hair follicles completely so that the brand looks like a heat brand but doesn't cause very much pain. I have been freeze branded myself and can tell you it doesn't hurt worst than a medium to mild sun burn. I very much recommend using GLOVES when you freeze brand. I don't know if my hair will grow back white or not as this was less than a week ago LOL. It's not so bad tho, not the best looking scar but oh well.

June 1, 2011 at 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Equine Gastric Ulcer Meds said...

Ohh...I just hope it's not as hurtful as I imagined it, but congratulations to the success. Are all horses branded?

May 15, 2012 at 4:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen the brand that you have turned upright and put on the left hip? I know a horse that has it on his hip, and his owner can not find any information about the brand, it is a freeze brand.

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