How To Use a Branding Iron

The act of branding livestock using a fire-heated material so as to identify its owner has origins dating back to the Ancient Egyptians. However, in America it became the standard technique of marking livestock from the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500s. There are several forms of branding apart from the traditional hot iron branding that is popularly associated with the old west. There is freeze branding, chemical branding, earmarking, ear tagging, inner lip or ear tattoos, or electronic tagging that makes use of a microchip. Today, branding’s popular uses include livestock, steak branding, wood branding, culinary and other crafts. In using a branding iron for your livestock, ensure that you are aware of certain state laws and regulations pertaining to the branding of animals, type of branding, method, kind of brand, and where on the animal’s body are you allowed to apply the brand.

  1. Prepare your livestock. The spot on the animal has to be clean and dry. Clip the hair off the area where you will apply the brand. Do not brand a wet or damp cattle, otherwise the brand will scald the hide and leave a scar or blotch. Take proper care and time when branding, as the cattle brands will be there permanently.
  2. Prepare your branding iron. Use a steel brush to clean and remove scale from the iron. It has to be free of burnt hair and sharp edges prior to applying it on your cattle. Be aware of the proper thickness of the brand. Irons should have a thickness of 3/8 to ½ inch. A four-inch iron is ideal for calves, while a five-inch iron is advised for yearlings. Horses have thin skin, thus a light weight iron and a light pressure is enough to make a permanent brand for them.
  3. Plug in the branding iron and wait for at least 90 seconds to reach the proper temperature or when it appears to be the color of ashes. The branding iron must have the right temperature to burn sufficiently and remove the hair and outer layer of the animal’s skin.
  4. Apply the branding iron to the animal with moderate pressure for about five to ten seconds. How long you place the iron may also be dependent on factors such as the animal breed, age, hair cover, weather condition, and temperature of the iron. Typically as soon as the surrounding skin turns to a dark copper color, you can remove the brand. Do not let it stay longer or the animal will bleed. 

Maintaining your branding iron is important in order to create a good brand. The type of cleaning materials depends on what the branding iron is used for. While a steel brush is used for a livestock iron, a steak iron needs a clean, firm but non-abrasive pad for removing food residue. A steak iron is one of the favorite barbecue accessories of cooks or chefs for marking designs on food. How well you take care of your branding iron will affect the quality of the font, designs, or markings you leave on your livestock, woodcraft, food, or other commodities.


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