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.