Branding Information

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.

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:

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

State Livestock Brand Agencies

Journey's End brand crafted by Pittsburg Foundry

Journey’s End brand crafted by Pittsburg Foundry

Equine Quick Response, LLC provides a valuable life-line between horses and their owners in the event of theft, loss, disasters or other emergency situations where horses may be separated from their owners. All branded livestock in our database can be easily tracked back to their registered owner or person of interest. It is crucial that our office work closely with law enforcement and state agencies regarding these processes. We also feel we have a responsibility to help inform our potential and existing members about the legal criterias associated with livestock branding, and encourage compliance with all state laws. While it is not our intention nor our place to police these policies, it is our duty to make the information about these processes available.

As an example, the state of Oklahoma does not require registration of livestock brands.  “State registration of your brand is not required by law.  Recorded brands,  however, take precedence over similar unrecorded brands when questions of ownership arise, placing the burden of proof on unregistered brand users in the event of controversy. Registered brands are prima facie evidence of ownership in a court of law.” Livestock Branding of Oklahoma Fact Sheet

In essence, while not registering your brand is permissible and within the laws of the state of Oklahoma, livestock owners who opt out of registering their brand cannot use their brand as evidence of ownership in a court of law, and in the case of disputes, the unregistered party will have the burden of proof over a registered party.  Additionally, should law enforcement attempt to identify livestock by an unregistered brand utilizing only the state brand book, there will be no record of ownership.  Horse owners who wish to obtain EQR brand registration in lieu of additional state registration will have a disadvantage over those who register with both the state and EQR with their membership.

Before branding, you will want to research the branding laws associated with your state of residence. In most states, your brand must be registered with the state prior to branding. Livestock owners are encouraged not to brand until their brand certificate has been issued. Not doing so may result in an infraction of laws of your state and could result in fines and/or jail time. This serves as a valuable protection to livestock owners, as a brand may potentially be used to verify ownership. When purchasing livestock already possessing a brand, check with your state about any necessary transfer, inspection or other requirements a new owner may need to fulfill. All these steps serve to help identify, verify ownership, and keep your livestock safe.

If your horse is not yet branded, you may still become an EQR member and register your horses.  As a convenience, EQR will provide you with brand registration forms necessary for your state should you opt to pursue such, and will also provide you with documentation of the legal requirements of registering with your state of residence.  Average fee for state brand registration is $20.00 and the process can take 2-3 weeks.

State Brand Registry Applications

 We will continue to add to this list state by state

For a comprehensive listing of state livestock brand and agriculture agencies click here >>

A Cowboy Tradition meets Modern Technology

1883 Wyoming Cattle Brands Book

1883 Wyoming Cattle Brands Book

In times past, livestock owners relied upon branding as a method of identification and even proof of ownership.  Branding books were made to chronicle registered brands, their owners and ranches.  These books are still in use today, and even provided to law enforcement personnel to aide in identifying lost or stolen livestock. We are very excited at Equine Quick Response (EQR) to embark upon a project set to take these noble traditions into the world of modern technology, primarily for the benefit of horse owners.  This technology will allow law enforcement, veterinarians, sale barn attendees, and private parties to simply snap a cell phone or digital photo of a suspect or found horse, as well as a close-up of its brand, and submit to EQR right from their smart phone or computer for identification and ownership confirmation purposes. Membership will place brand, contact and property information into a retrievable national database.  Annual or life-time memberships will be available with EQR, with our database being set to launch this coming February 2014.


EQR’s national database will utilize modern technology with the tradition of branding.  In addition to being able to register your brand to identify your horse and provide crucial contact information for the safe return of your horse, EQR members will also be able to:

  • Post provided signs and window/vehicle decals serving as theft deterrent for each member; displaying EQR registry with national database and contact information
  • Order decals of personal, registered brand to apply to truck/trailers
  • Register trailers/trucks with EQR and utilize the same identification services offered for horses
  • Order custom branding irons

In the event that a horse is lost or stolen, EQR will initiate a media blast to veterinarians, border/customs, US processing plants and state law enforcement with contact info, side views of horse, close up/location of brand, and contact for specific visual identification.


Yellowstone Monitor., September 10, 1908

Yellowstone Monitor., September 10, 1908

Livestock branding is a technique for marking livestock so as to identify the owner. Originally, livestock branding only referred to a hot brand for large stock, though the term is now also used to refer to other alternative techniques such as freeze branding. Other forms of livestock identification include inner lip or ear tattoos, earmarking, ear tagging, and RFID tagging with a type of microchip. The semi-permanent paint markings used to identify sheep are called a paint or colour brand. In the American West, branding evolved into a complex marking system still in use today.

The act of marking livestock with fire-heated marks to identify ownership has origins in ancient times, with use dating back to the ancient Egyptians. Among the ancient Romans, the symbols used for brands were sometimes chosen as part of a magic spell aimed at protecting animals from harm.

The unique brand meant that cattle owned by multiple ranches could then graze freely together on the open range. Cowboys could then separate the cattle at “roundup” time for driving to market. Cattle rustlers using “running irons” were ingenious in changing brands. Brands became so numerous that it became necessary to record them in books that the ranchers could carry in their pockets. Laws were passed requiring the registration of brands, and the inspection of cattle driven through various territories. Penalties were imposed on those who failed to obtain a bill of sale with a list of brands on the animals purchased.

Free-range or open-range grazing is less common today than in the past. However, branding still has its uses. The main purpose is in proving ownership of lost or stolen animals. Many western US states have strict laws regarding brands, including brand registration, and require brand inspections. In many cases, a brand on an animal is considered prima facie proof of ownership.

Brand Books are used by law enforcement officials, brand inspectors, and association investigators to record and track livestock movement, deter loss of livestock by straying or theft, and prosecute thieves. Brand books are made available to law enforcement for free, while others may purchase from their County Exentsion Agents. Some states have their brand books available online.


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