Each year we get many questions about the process we use to freeze brand our cattle. We use a copper alloy (brass) freeze branding iron that is 3 ½” tall and has a 9/16” face. There are two methods you can use to cool the irons; liquid nitrogen or a combination of denatured alcohol and dry ice. We prefer the denatured alcohol and dry ice method. Denatured alcohol is 99.9% pure and will not freeze. It is important to use denatured alcohol so that the liquid will not freeze and become slushy.
After placing the branding irons in a large plastic cooler with the combination of alcohol and dry ice, we allow the irons to cool for 15 minutes before the first brand is started. You will notice a build up of frost on the base of the handle of the iron. When this occurs, the branding irons are cold enough to begin branding.
The area that is to be branded needs to be cleaned and clipped prior to branding. We use a regular flathead clipper with a normal blade, but not a surgical blade. It is important to not take too much hair off the area to be branded because of the risk of burning the skin rather than killing the hair pigment.
After the area has been clipped, prior to applying the irons, a generous amount of room temperature denatured alcohol is sprayed onto the area where the brand will be placed. This is done using any type of hand-spray bottle. Once the area is saturated, a cold iron is placed on the animal. Ideally we have a timer located on the squeeze chute so when the branding iron is placed on the animal the timer can be started and accurately determine the length of time the iron has been on the area. We set the timer to 48 seconds.
It is important to try and keep the cold brand on all parts of the skin surface for the entire 48 seconds using a fairly strong amount of pressure to hold the iron in place. At times the animal being branded will jump after about 10 seconds. If you loose contact with the area, simply put the branding iron back on the outline that was left and continue with the pressure.
We brand our cattle at about 8-10 months of age and ideally these calves are in good flesh. Cattle that are thin are much harder to brand and the end result is less than satisfactory.
A final tip for freeze branding is clipping the area to be branded in a square and straight manner. This gives you a border in which to place your irons in a straighter way allowing for a more attractive brand.
Freeze branding is an excellent way to permanently identify your cattle; however it is somewhat of a tedious process. At BJ Angus Genetics we can freeze brand about 8 animals per hour.