Community Agriculture Alliance: Behind the branding iron

Sharon Clever
Community Agriculture Alliance

The livestock brand is still the principal means of marking cattle, horses and sheep for identification and legal proof of ownership in Colorado.

Back in the early days, a ranch was more likely to be known by its most commonly used brand. One that comes to mind is the 7N Ranch that was on County Road 179.  

The branding fire was as much of a tradition as any part of the cattle business. Heating the irons to the right temperature and keeping them there while the branding progresses was a matter of skill, judgement and management.

If the irons were too cold, the brand was put on too lightly, and as the animal grew older, it would gradually fade out. If the iron was too hot, the brand might blotch from excess heat and be difficult or impossible to read.

The right temperature was a deep cherry-red color and a good hand with an iron knowing exactly how long to hold it on the hide in order to get a clean, neat, legible brand for the life of the animal. 

Unfortunately, the need for the brand is still here. Human nature has not changed. Cattle, horses and sheep are still stolen. Having many paved highways and cattle and horses that are used to being loaded into trailers and that makes it easier for thieves. 

The earliest efforts to record brands was 1867. The county clerk was who you registered your brands with. The Colorado Cattle Growers Association got together and published a Colorado Brand book in 1884. In 1885 this operation of recording and tracking brands was turned over to the state of Colorado.

The state of Colorado published its first brand book in 1886. A new edition is published every five years.

The state of Colorado is considered a free choice for location on the animal. Many generations put the brand in the same location.

Today hot branding, freeze branding are used on horses and cattle and paint branding on sheep.

Information was taken from the Centennial Brand Book 1867-1967 Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Colorado Brand Book 2017.

Sharon Clever is a member of the Routt County Cattlewomen

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