Brand Books

Trust your neighbors, but brand your stock.

1885 Brand Book | 1908 Brand Book

History of Branding

branding ironThe origin of branding livestock dates from 2700 B.C. Paintings in Egyptian tombs document branding oxen with hieroglyphics. Ancient Greeks and Romans marked livestock and slaves with a hot iron. Hernando Cortez introduced branding from Spain to the New World in 1541. He brought cattle stamped with his mark of three crosses. There has never been anything to take the place of a visible brand as a permanent definitive mark of ownership and deterrent to theft. Livestock people say "a brand's something that won't come off in the wash."

The original Spanish brands were, as a rule, complicated, and beautifully rich in design, but not always practical. The early American ranchers wanted more simple designs that were easy to remember, easily made, that did not blotch, and that were hard to alter.

Brands, both hot iron and freeze brands, are recorded by state livestock agencies in many states. The agencies also record the location you place the brand on the animal. You may not register a particular brand if the same symbols and location have already been registered by someone else in your area. It is important, not only to register a brand correctly, but to keep it active. Like most registrations, brand registrations do expire.

Branding is very important in proving ownership of lost or stolen animals. An unbranded animal is called a slick, and is almost impossible to legally identify. No other way is as easily visible as branding, not only for identification, but as a deterrent to theft. Other methods such as implanted computer chips are positive identification, if a new owner is aware of them, but hot or freeze brands are highly visible and hard to alter.

Reading Brands

branding ironFor many new livestock owners, the art of reading a brand is a mystery. Brands, to the inexperienced, resemble hieroglyphics; to the experienced livestock person, however, they become a readable language. With practice and an understanding of some important brand terms, anyone can easily read brands.

Brands have a language all their own. That language, like any other, follows certain rules. The ability to read these symbols is referred to as callin' the brand.

Brands are composed of capital letters of the alphabet, numerals, pictures, and characters such as slash /, circle O, half-circle , cross +, _bar, etc., with many combinations and adaptations. Letters can be used singly, joined, or in combinations.
They can be upright, XIT ;
lying down or "lazy," (lazy S);
connected ( V B connected) or combined, (V B combined);
reversed, (reverse B);
or hanging (V hanging S).

Figures or numbers are used in the same way as the letters.

Picture brands are usually used alone, for example (ladder) or (rising sun).

There are three accepted rules for reading brands.

  1. Read from the left to the right as ML (M L).
  2. Read from the top to the bottom as (bar m).
  3. When the brand is enclosed, it is read from the outside to the inside as (circle S).

The reading of a brand, especially the more complicated ones, in one locality or state may not correspond to the way it is read elsewhere.

Today, with the influx of Mexican horses from south of the border, we see a lot of odd, hard to read "scripty" brands, a little reminiscent of the old elaborate Spanish brands. Many of them look like they are applied with a runnin' iron. Unlike a pre-shaped, stamp style branding iron, a running iron is a straight or curved piece of metal that is heated and then the brand is drawn rather than just stamped on the animal.

Why brand cattle?

IN the range cattle business it is important for every owner of live stock to have some mark by which he can tell his own cattle. It is impossible for any man to remember and recognize by natural marks every animal in a large herd. On the open range there are no fenced pastures to hold the cattle, but all are permitted to run free and mix promiscuously. To distinguish the cattle of different owners a system of earmarks and brands has been devised by which each ranchman can identify and claim his own stock.

When are cattle branded?

Brands SketchThe branding is usually done during a round-up when every calf found is caught and branded in the brand of its mother. If a calf remains unbranded until after it is weaned and quits its mother, it becomes a maverick and is liable to be lost to its owner

Although the branding is supposed to be done only during a round-up there is nevertheless some branding done in every month of the year. The ranchman is compelled to do so to save his calves from being stolen. Therefore early branding is generally practiced as it has been found to be the best safeguard against theft. Either the spring or fall is considered a good time to brand, but the only best time to brand a calf is when you find it.

Beef Issue

Brands SketchThe Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 stipulated where Native tribes were to live and outlined how they would be compensated. Because traditional hunting grounds were severely reduced along with a shrinking buffalo herd, part of the compensation included rations of beef. The government supply of beef was called the ‘beef issue’. Cattle were purchased from ranches near reservations and upon delivery were branded with the government ‘ID’ brand.