Branding Your Calves

By December 23, 2019 January 3rd, 2020 Branding, Tips & Tricks

I frequently get asked questions about branding calves – what is a holding brand, what is a private herd number and how are those assigned, what brands do you use, what technique do you use?

A holding brand is your individual ranch brand. At Star Creek Ranch, I use a five-pointed star as my holding brand. The ranch brand should be registered with your county including the location on the animal you will apply the brand. This applies in Texas but may differ in other states. The brand will also need to be registered with the TLBAA so that when you register an animal the brand will be printed on your registration certificate. You will have to supply an accurate drawing of your brand to the TLBAA and the location on the animal.

When deciding on the location, please consider that even though you may not have any plans to send your cattle to market, at some point in their life they will almost all go to market and the hide is a valuable part of that animal. Sometimes cattle will be docked in price if a large portion of the hide is unusable due to a large brand on the cow’s side or elsewhere. That is why I think it is important to put all the brands – both holding brand and PH number – in one location on the animal. It is easier to brand that way also, in my opinion. I put my PH number on the left hip and the holding brand on the left thigh.

Sensational Stars Afire show off her PH #865 and her star holding brand.

The Private Herd number is the unique number in your herd to identify an animal. You can choose any method for assigning PH numbers in your herd, but one number should identify the year the animal was born. A common system is to number heifers with sequential even numbers and bulls with odd numbers depending on the order in which they were born.

For instance, the first heifer born in 2019 would have a PH number of 29 and the third bull born in the year would have PH number 59. I choose to brand my calves with their birth date using no more than four numbers. So Sensational shown above was born August 6, 2015. I have a more complicated system for calves born in the latter parts of October – December but it works for me. I just don’t like to use more than four numbers.

I use electric branding irons because it is easy for me – I have electricity in the barn where we brand – and I feel electric brands heat evenly. I also shave the branding site. That way a longer hair coat in winter doesn’t become a factor in a good, even brand. This takes a little longer, but I feel it is worth the extra time. As you can see from Sensational’s brand, the hair coat has regrown, but the brand can still be read. That is my goal.

Star for the Seasons showing how the hair has covered her brands, PH 5195 and star.

There are several companies that can make electric brands for you. You will need to supply a drawing of your brand. Remember when you are deciding on a ranch brand – make it as simple as possible and have as few overlapping spots as possible. Remember you are branding a live animal and it is much different than drawing a brand on paper.

Two companies that make electric brands are:

I have used both companies and found them reliable. You can also purchase a number set for the PH numbers. I use the 2.5” size of numbers now. In the past, I used a larger size and found that the number grew too large on the animal.

Branding a Calf:

Here is our volunteer for the day – Lavish Stars

Shaving the branding site

The finished shaved site

Applying the brands. Do not use pressure! Let the heat do the work. I make a quick strike, withdraw the brand and then apply again. The calf will usually settle down and not jump the second time the brand is applied. There will be less chance of the brand sliding on the calf.

We apply ice packs to the branding site until the heat is gone from the brand. I feel this makes the calf much more comfortable. What do you do when you burn your hand? Get an ice cube, right. Takes the burn out. Anyway, that is my theory and we are all about making these calves as comfortable as we can on their initiation day.

The only thing that will make her feel better is getting back to mom and getting a drink of warm milk. Always makes things better!