Branding Information

Livestock branding is any technique for marking livestock so as to identify the owner. Originally, livestock branding only referred to a hot brand for large stock, though the term is now also used to refer to other alternative techniques such as freeze branding. Other forms of livestock identification include inner lip or ear tattoos, earmarking, ear tagging, and RFID tagging with a type of microchip. The semi-permanent paint markings used to identify sheep are called a paint or colour brand. In the American west, branding evolved into a complex marking system still in use today.

The act of marking livestock with fire-heated marks to identify ownership has origins in ancient times, with use dating back to the ancient Egyptians. In English lexicon, the word brand originally meant anything hot or burning, such as a firebrand, a burning stick. By the European Middle Ages, it commonly identified the process of burning a mark into stock animals with thick hides, such as cattle, so as to identify ownership under animus revertendi. The practice became particularly widespread in nations with large cattle grazing regions, such as Spain.

These European customs were imported to the Americas and were further refined by the vaquero tradition in what today is the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. In the American West, a branding iron consisted of an iron rod with a simple symbol or mark, which cowboys heated in a fire. After the branding iron turned red-hot, the cowboy pressed the branding iron against the hide of the cow. The unique brand meant that cattle owned by multiple ranches could then graze freely together on the open range. Cowboys could then separate the cattle at round-up time for driving to market. Cattle rustlers using "running irons" were ingenious in changing brands. The most famous brand change involved the making of the X I T brand into a star with a cross inside.

Wikipedia, Branding, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock_branding (as of Apr 1, 2010)

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