Family Time on a Family Farm

There are many jobs on a farm or ranch that need to be done, but are really not that much fun. Freeze branding is one of those jobs.  A freeze brand on a cow's side is the white numbers or ranch brand that are used for permanent identification of the individual animal and to prove ownership. At Blythe Angus, we brand our heifers with a four-digit number on their left side and our ranch brand on their right hip.  Our bulls get a number brand on their shoulder along with the ranch brand on their right hip.

Working cattle can be fun, even though (or because) it is a job that you must get dirty! But on our ranch, it is a family job and an opportunity to spend many hours with the kids, talk to them about the last junior high football game, hear about the math test coming up and laugh as they roughhouse while waiting for the branding irons to cool down between cattle.

We have been freeze branding since 1996 and now all our cows carry a white number on their side. Permanent identification is very important in a registered cow herd for many reasons. First, since each cow is black and they generally look the same (at least to someone not familiar with my cows) and we must have some way to know which cow is which to provide parentage and management information on every animal on our ranch.  I keep records every time I give medicine to an individual cow or vaccine to the herd, and during the calving season, I have detailed records on every calf and mama cow. I must be able to trace the lineage of every calf on our ranch.  We do use ear tags but those do sometimes fall out, as any woman who wears dangling earrings knows! If an ear tag is a cow's only identification and more than one loses their tag in a month, how do I know which cow is which with any degree of certainty?

Freeze branding is a minor discomfort to the animal, much like a sore muscle may be for me--and believe me, after freeze branding all day, I have plenty of sore muscles! There are a couple of ways to freeze brand, and they both involve using a brass branding iron chilled down and pressed against the hide of the animal for a certain amount of time. The cold affects the hair follicle, turning off the pigment-maker in the hair. So when the hair grows back in, it comes in pure white.

Compared to vaccinating or processing for weights, freeze branding is very time consuming and tedious. First you must clip the hair short in the location where you will put the brand. Then we use methyl alcohol and dry ice to cool the irons.  Each iron must be held in the same place for approximately 1 minute with firm pressure to ensure good contact to the hide and guarantee a good brand. If you have never had to hold a number "4" in place on a heifer's side for a full minute, you can't know how difficult it can be! We use a kitchen timer and sometimes one minute seems like forever! Once you have used an iron, you put it back in the alcohol/dry ice mixture to cool down--this is the longest part of freeze branding. If the iron does not cool down adequately, you won't get a good brand.  Unfortunately you don't know that until about 30-45 days later when the hair begins to grow back! So you must wait between animals to make sure the irons are cold.

In order to make the day go faster and the chore less tedious for my teenaged kids, I make it a fun event.  We buy early Halloween candy, stock a cooler with sodas, juice and snacks, and I get up early to put a good lunch in the crockpot so that when we are finally done, we can eat a good, hot beef meal. We always have a radio and the kids end up singing and dancing while waiting for the irons to cool.  We've had impromptu wrestling matches, practical jokes and true confessions while freeze branding. I hope that the kids will remember this chore as an annual event and look back with fond memories of spending the weekend with the cattle and family.  It is a perfect example of taking advantage of the time we have together to really connect.  My kids are involved in every chore on our ranch and I believe it makes them better people because of it. They know how to work, how to play and what it takes to run a ranch. But most importantly, I get the chance to talk and play with them while the work is being done. Nothing beats life on a cattle ranch in Kansas!


  1. "Freeze branding is a minor discomfort to the animal..." Boy, you certain assume a lot... but then again, you would being that your cows are slaves destined for only one end. BTW your "good beef meal" - You can get 4 times the amount of protein from beans - with none of the negative side effects of "beef". Being Vegan is a wonderful way of life!

  2. Bea: I appreciate your concerns. It is of vital importance to me that my cattle are treated well and not caused undue pain. I know that freeze branding does not cause much pain, as the cattle mostly stand quietly in the holding chute as we press the cold iron to their sides. They actually jump more when I turn on the clippers to trim their hair! And I know that beans as good for you, we eat them too. But you'd have to eat a lot of beans every day, 3 meals a day, to equal the amount of nutrients in beef. Protein is not the only good thing beef gives you. I respect that you are happy as a vegan. Being a cattle rancher is a wonderful way of life!

  3. Hi Debbie, I really enjoy your posts and have awarded you with the Kreative Blogger Award. When you have time, please stop by my blog and take a look. Blessings to you! Deborah

  4. Debbie,
    I was wondering it you can bring families to work together and work all day like a real farmer? Do you know anyone who does that?

  5. sounds fun- we'll be using liquid nitrogren to freeze brand our horses. should be a good time. we just put a DX on their right hips.


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