Freeze Branding

As all experienced livestock owners know, branding horses or cattle is almost an art form. Whether you use a hot or freeze brand, a specific calculated amount of time for holding the iron against an animal’s skin is required. Too much time burns a brand right to the skin – too little time means you may have to try again. And “touching up” a brand isn’t an easy task. Trust me.

Freeze branding is a technique in which a supercold branding iron, properly applied to the animals hide, kills the color pigment producing cells. The result is white or colorless hair – instead of colored hair – at the brand site.


We always get a vet to do our brands. The reason for this is because then we can have the animals  sedated in case they decide to try and move around. Our W E Quarter Circle brand goes on the left hip for our horses and on the right rib cage for our cattle. It has taken us a few years to get the brand perfected for horses, but we’re pretty happy with it now. Recently, L & H Branding irons even helped us design a smaller W E Quarter Circle brand for the horses which is approximately 2 inches high, as opposed to our old iron which was almost an inch an half taller. The W E Quarter Circle brand has been in Clay’s family for many years.

First, we clip a small patch of hair from the hindquarters, where the brand is set to go. Then our vet, Dr. James Foley sedates the mare and applies surgical lube to the area to help hold the cold in. Meanwhile, the iron has been sitting in liquid for several minutes to try and get it cold evenly throughout.

Then one person is charged with holding the horse and a second often utilized to ensure the horse doesn’t swing its hind out away from the iron. However in this case, I went for my camera instead…

According to L & H, branding times vary according to the metal in the irons (all times shown below are for L & H brass freeze branding irons) and the age, skin thickness and color of the animal. Branders should calibrate their freeze branding irons by branding the recommended times and keeping accurate records of times and results.

ANIMAL                              COOLANT                                APPLICATION TIME

Colt                                       Liquid Nitrogen                        6-12 seconds

Horse                                   Liquid Nitrogen                        8-12 seconds

Calf                                       Liquid Nitrogen                        21-24 seconds

Cow                                      Liquid Nitrogen                         25-30 seconds

(*Of course, some people choose to use dry ice and alcohol. Times vary for this type of coolant)

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For more information about branding, check out L & H Branding Irons.


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