Freeze Branding a Horse

Q:I am interested in freeze branding my horses. What is involved in the process? Can I do this myself, or do I need help?


A:Freeze branding is a method of permanently identifying your horse. It is aesthetically appealing and is less painful than hot iron branding. Horses generally tolerate it with minimal restraint. We recommend you contact someone who frequently does this procedure to ensure good results. Inexperience can lead to an inadequate amount of white hair in an indistinct or an unsightly hairless scar.

The most important piece of equipment is a quality branding iron. It is recommended that the iron be made of brass, as the steel iron used in hot branding does not hold the cold temperature adequately. Contact a metal fabricating company to have the brand made in your design. There are commercial manufacturers that will do this.

Freeze branding is usually done in one of three places: The hip, the shoulder, or the crest of the neck. The area is clipped with a #40 blade, cleaned, and degreased with alcohol. The iron is submerged in liquid nitrogen to reach the temperature of minus -320°F; usually this takes about five minutes in the nitrogen. The iron is placed on the skin for approximately 45-60 seconds, depending on hair color (chestnuts generally require less time). Initially the frozen skin is indented, then thaws to leave a welt. The welt lasts 15 to 30 minutes. Over the next few weeks, the branded skin will dry and scurf up. White hair will replace the original color as the new coat grows in. A good brand is bright white and crisp against the coat background.

Some states have branding laws, and it is advisable to check with your state's branding board to make sure you are not using someone else's registered brand.

About the Author

Eric S. Peterson, DVM

Eric S. Peterson, DVM, practices in Lexington, Ky.

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