July 10, 2012

Why we Brand our Cattle

The number 1 reason that we brand our cattle is to have permanent proof of who the rightful owner of them is.  I know when you here about cattle rustling you immediately think about cowboys riding horses across the prairie wearing bandannas, colt 45's and shooting any farmer or rancher who stood in their way of their thieving ways.  I find myself thinking that cattle rustling is a thing of the past but is is not.  Cattle rustling still happens especially when cattle prices are high and the reward vs. risk makes it very tempting to steal cattle.   But just like everything in life things don't really change that much, cattle rustling still happens it has just taken on a different image and the thieves have evolved to still try to evade the law.  Here are a few recent articles I think paints a pretty clear picture that the farmers of today are still faced with the same problem of cattle rustling as the farmers of the early 1900's. 




As cattle farmers we worry about our cattle getting in the hands of the wrong people and it is not just the economic loss of that animal but it is the fact that I work hard to keep them safe and meet all of their needs and would feel as though we failed them by not keeping them out of the hands of criminals.  Pretty sure a person with no respect of the owner of the livestock will have little to no respect for the animal as well.  We use tags to help ID our cattle as our own but a thief can run the cow through a chute, remove my tag and replace it with a different color, number, or style of tag and I would never know they had my cow unless there was some permanent mark on the animal.  Cattle theft is not just taking of the cattle and reselling them for the money.  It also includes "borrowing" the neighbors cow for a few years selling or keeping her calves and then returning her after she is past her prime productive years.  That is why it is so important to be able to know the difference between my cows and all of my neighbors cows.  Between all of our pastures and the main home location we have 14 + neighbors with cows bordering our fence lines.  All of them have primarily black cows (a couple of them may have a couple reds or Charolais cross cows) but for the most part the vast majority of them look very similar to our herd.  The only distinct difference is the tags in their ears (which can and do fall out) and the brands on their hips. 

Our OO7 cow was branded when she was a calf with our brand 2 years ago.  At 15 feet away you can clearly read the "Spear Y" brand on her right hip. 
  We live in the part of Nebraska that is a brand inspection area.  When ever I sell cattle directly off my farm, I am required to call our local brand inspector to come inspect the cattle BEFORE they are loaded on the truck.  He will look at each animal to be sold, give me shipping documents verifying the head count is correct and they all belong to us based on the proof of ownership (brands on the animals, calving records, and bill of sales and brand papers I received if that animal was purchased) he will also collect a fee for his work.  If I sell cattle at the sale barn there is a brand inspector on sight on sale day and every animal is looked at and ownership is verified.  If we sell an animal that was purchased we have to show the original brand inspection document I received at the time of purchase.  Cattle that have someone else's brand on them with out proof of ownership transfer will not be sold and the owner of the brand on that animal will be called to confirm that they sold that animal to the person attempting to sell it.  If that animal is was not sold then the original owner has to option of picking up their animal or selling it.  I had a good friend of mine who got a call from a brand inspector stating that they had a couple of cows with their brand on them at the local sale barn and the person attempting to sell them could not prove that they belonged to him.  She said that they had not sold the cows and would come get them.  They lost out on a few years worth of calves from those cows but they were able to get them back eventually.  So the system does work and cattle do get returned if the animal is wearing proof of who they belong to.
Brands themselves are numbers, letters, characters, or combinations of the 3 that are arranged together in a specific order.  They are read from top to bottom (like ours), left to right, or if circular outside to inside.  Usually farmers pick their brand to have some significant meaning about the family or ranch, their innitials, the abreviation of ranch name, spouces innitials, etc.  Our brand doesn't have any significant meaning.  When we where looking for a brand we picked 1 off the list of brands for sale through the Nebraska Brand Committe.  We chose it because we could put it on the same side as the brand that belongs to the guy we lease our cows from, it looked like it would not smear or "blotch" (be easy to apply and read later), and it looked "neat".  We have a brand registered with the State Brand Committee and have a specific place on the animal our brand can be place for that brand to represent us.  We can put our brand on the right side of the animal on the shoulder, rib or hip. Nobody else in the state has the same brand that can be located in the same locations on the animal. 

The Bull in the middle is the new bull we picked up a few weeks ago.  From about 60 feet away you can read the previous owners band ("reverse F H Quarter Circle") in the middle of his hip.  Our brand was placed directly above it about 1 hour before I took the picture.  The bull on the left has our brand on his hip that can also been seen from this distance.  The shave spots in the new bull's hair is from when the breeder ultra sounded him to measure how much fat he had and how big is rib-eye is.  (He scanned a 14.9 inch rib-eye - that is a plate full of beef)!!
  A perfect example of the importance of a permanent identification that can be easily read in a large pasture situation is the mystery bull we found in a pasture a few years ago.  It was the first year we rented the pasture, there are 6 other cattle owners that boarder this pasture and we had not gotten to know who they were yet.  I went out to check cows and discovered I had a bull that didn't belong to us.  He was not very nice and wouldn't let me get to close in fact he was down right pissed off.  I was able to take pictures of the brand on him.  When I got back to the house a quick search on the states brand website told me who he belonged to and the town the gentleman was from.  Another quick search on google and I had the guy's phone number.  Within not much time I could ID who the bull belonged to, get his contact info, and let him know I had his bull.  If that bull had no identification on him I would not have know which of the 6 pastures he needed to be returned to and chances are would have put him in the wrong pasture.

This heifer calf was branded about 2 weeks before the picture was taken.  From about 30 feet even on small calves our brand "Spear Y" is clearly readable!  She doesn't even notice it is there any more.
 We don't brand our cattle because we want to be cruel to our cattle.  We brand because we want to make sure they stay safe and out of the hands of the wrong people.  We use the smallest branding iron allowed by our state and place our brands (when possible) in locations that reduce the amount of discount on the sale of the hide that may happen due to excessive scaring.  We also do the majority of our branding in the early spring to minimize the impact of flys and reduce the risk of infection or sores. 

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