Does Freeze Branding Hurt?

Contents of this article shared by Australian Master Brander, Tony Carter

Contents of this article shared by Australian Master Brander, Tony Carter-Smith

The first question most of us ask when considering freeze branding our horses is if the procedure causes pain and if  the application is humane.  To get the best answer, we decided we’d like to hear what a long time professional in the field had to say on the subject.  Pittsburg Foundry, the official branding iron supplier of Equine Quick Response, LLC, happens to have a long time client from Australia who has spent the past 25 years of his life in this field; Tony Carter – Smith PTY Ltd.  Tony gave us the following insights on the freeze branding process:

“Freeze branding is a safe, virtually painless and economical process. The brand is legible, permanent and can be read from a distance, this means your horse is less likely to be the target of thieves. It’s like your horse or pony having its own registration plate. Other methods of branding can be painful and quite often result in an uneven and unreadable brand.”  Tony Carter-Smith

The brand shown here within 1/2 hour of being branded

The brand shown here within 1/2 hour of being branded

What is Freeze Branding?

Freeze branding is a method of visibly and permanently identifying horses and ponies. Freeze branding, as the name suggests, is carried out by freezing the brand using liquid nitrogen to -196c and then applying to the skin for 6-10 seconds. This destroys the hair pigment so when the hair grows back it is white. White or grey horses will need a slightly longer application; this will destroy the hair follicle which will result in a hairless brand.

The Process

A small area on the animal’s shoulders is clipped and methylated spirit is applied to the clipped area, the brand is then applied. The horse/pony may be walked in a small circle or stand quite still  while the brand is being applied. They react differently but most times barely notice what is going on. Even foals cope well with this process.

The final product, Wadelee Obsession* show here 3 months later with his beautiful Freeze brand.

The final product, Wadelee Obsession* shown here 3 months later with his beautiful freeze brand.

The brand swells up after it is applied, but this swelling subsides within a couple of hours. The branding application is virtually painless to the animal.

Does it hurt?

The coldness of the application will help to act as an anesthetic; however the initial effect can cause slight discomfort. Many horses can be branded with little or no restraint but of course we don’t usually know which they are until after the brand has been applied. All efforts are made to make this process as stress free as possible for animal, handler and brander. As this application does not break the skin and does not cause ongoing discomfort your horse can be ridden, rugged and fed as normal.

How long before the brand shows?

Freeze branding is humane and therefore a gradual process. At first there will be little to see, then the old hair will die away and the new hair will grow through in the shape of the brand. This will take approximately 4 – 6 weeks.

Tony Carter has 25 years experience freeze branding horses. He works under contract to freeze brand and take DNA samples of all standardbred foals in Victoria, Australia, as well as the majority of the thoroughbred studs.

Tony Carter-Smith has 25 years experience freeze branding horses. He works under contract to freeze brand and take DNA samples of all standardbred foals in Victoria, Australia, as well as the majority of the thoroughbred studs.

Here in Australia all thoroughbreds and standardbreds (harness horses) must be freeze branded with registered brands and micro chipped.  This is recorded on national and state databases. Many other breeds are also freeze branded and micro chipped and their brand is recorded by their own horse association or society. We have a national/state microchip register.

Many people freeze brand their pleasure horses with unregistered brands but it serves the purpose of giving identity. In the southern states of Australia, most working horses are freeze branded now but in our larger states there is still some hot branding, mainly due to tradition, lack of liquid nitrogen in remote areas and cost.

Tony brands all types from Clydesdale to miniature and everything in between. He brands all standardbreds in this state and 75% of the thoroughbreds so this time of the year is busy for him. Probably the biggest difference we notice is that the brands in the USA are enormous compared to ours. Most Thoroughbred brands here are only one 1″ inch, which grow a little after application, but this gives a clear clean brand. Our brands are actually manufactured in Texas, it took them a while to figure out how we could use such “itty bitty” brands.

Good luck with the database service you offer in America. Cheers.

Regards,
Robyn and Tony
Tony Carter-Smith Pty Ltd

With many thanks to Tony Carter-Smith for sharing the information contained in this article.  To learn more about Tony please visit his website:  
www.tcsbranding.com.au

*Wadelee Obsession is owned by Courtney Schleter & Jessica Herring of Wadelee Pony Stud, Mt. Gambier SA.

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2 comments

  1. I have always thought brands were cool, beautiful “tattoos” I just could not bring myself to do it to my beloved equine! Even though I have some ink myself, it’s a personal decision which the horse cannot make on his own. My friends at Blazes Tribute Equine Rescue brand al of their horses so they can be easily identified and hopefully never experience terrible treatment again. I had the privilege of watching a couple horses get freeze branded and it was exactly as described above. The horses were adopted by a friend of mine and i watched the recovery process which again, was just as desscribed; no bloody scabs, no worry of infection, just deadskin flaking off. And yes, they are beautiful! Since then I had my own brand built and plan to freeze brand my herd. The benefit easily out-weighs the pain, ear peircing has more blood after all and did i mention they are beautiful?

    Now I am curious about my show ponies, I have not seen too many POA show ponies with brands. Any thoughts?

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