Spring Branding

On the ranch, spring means new calves! It’s an exciting time to see all the babies that have to be vaccinated and marked for identification. Believe it or not, cattle rustling is still common, so the mark is a necessary measure to keep cattle with their rightful owner.

Today we do our best to handle our animals with the least amount of stress possible. We freeze brand instead of hot brand. The freeze brand kills the hair follicle and the new hair that comes in is white, so instead of a scar, the animal has white hair in the shape of the brand. The freeze is accomplished by mixing dry ice and alcohol. The special iron is soaked in this solution in a cooler, and when it comes out, it’s extremely cold. Getting a freeze brand can be compared to removing a wart with liquid nitrogen.

Here are some photos from last spring’s branding:

First the cattle are brought in and the calves sorted out.

The calves are moved through a chute and put onto a rotating table, which is eased onto its side.









Once on its side, the calf gets the necessary vaccinations and the mark is applied. The record keeper marks down the ear tag number and the sex, and any important notes about the animal. If the animal has any injuries or concerns, they are dealt with then.

After the calve is marked and innoculated, it is released to return to its mother.










Branding is an activity shared by family, friends and neighbors. Everyone pitches in and afterward there’s a big dinner. This gathering of neighbors and friends is very important in communities where ranches are often separated by many miles, and many hands are needed to accomplish an necessary task.


Jeannie Watt
Jeannie Watt raises cattle in Montana and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.


  1. What a great way to handle it. A one stop way to get all the important things done. Less handling means less stress for the animal. Freeze branding still hurts a bit, but not anywhere near as much as hot branding.

    1. Hi Patricia–Yes, a lot gets done at one time. It’s good to handle these guys as seldom as possible and keep them out on pasture.

  2. Wow. What a wonderful blog, and with pictures! Thank you for taking us through how it’s all done. I love the idea of freeze branding and I had no idea about the rotating table, which makes great sense. I also love the idea of community help and bonding. Thanks so very much for telling us about how it’s done these days.

    1. Hi Eliza–the calf table and freeze branding takes a lot of stress out of branding. The calves are better off for it.

  3. How very interesting. Not at all like I thought. Thanks so much for the wonderful blog.

  4. Very cool that they use a freeze brand! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  5. This is an interesting post. I love how the community comes together for the branding and shots too. I had to google what a freeze brand looks like when the hair grows back out.

    1. I didn’t think to post a photo! Thanks for looking it up!

  6. I have never heard of the freeze brand but sounds like tha would be the way to go.

    1. So much less stress on everyone involved!

  7. Freeze branding sounds like the way to go!

  8. Tough work. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome, Kim. It is hard work, but everyone looks forward to branding.

  9. For those who want to know what freeze branding looks like, look at Mary Conealy’s cow and calf picture. The “35” looks like they freeze brand, too. We started using a calf table a few years ago and oh, how much easier it is on the calves and the people.

    1. Thanks, Alice. And I so agree about the calf table!

  10. That’s really interesting about the freeze branding. I’d not heard of that, but it sounds like a good alternative. And it’s crazy that rustling is still a thing.

    1. Hi Trish–Cattle rustling is still a thing. Especially when beef prices rise. It does seem pretty anachronistic. 🙂

  11. Thank you for a great post!

    1. You’re welcome, Melanie!

  12. Freeze branding is new to me. The smell must be so much better than burning hair & flesh. Great post.

    1. Soooo much better. And the calves barely make a sound. It’s all so much calmer.

  13. Thank you for all the comments. I’m traveling and just now catching up!

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