The Sunday News
THERE are a number of livestock identification methods that are at the disposal of farmers.
That includes the rudimentary but widely practised ear notching (uphawu) among the smallholder communal farmers, ear tagging and other sophisticated branding methods such as tattooing, freeze branding and electric branding. However, we want to discuss the cheaper and highly effective branding especially with regards to stock theft prevention and identification of the owner of the animal.
This is the hot iron branding. This is the branding of your animals using a hot iron rod which is usually heated using fire.
The iron rod has three letters at the end which are either put in their conventional shape or some are deliberately put in reverse or overturned fashion. The brand mark is registered under the Ministry of Home Affairs (and Cultural Heritage) and it can be traced to a particular owner.
It is important to mention here that while the brand certificate is obtained from the registrar department, the actual brand is then fabricated by steel product makers and this is where the discrepancies begin.
The brand mark is supposed to be made in adherence to certain specifications regarding the width and space between the letters.
This is important for the visibility and clarity of the brand mark, for example if the letters are too close the brand mark then merges into one burnt scar. It is therefore important to have your brand mark fabricated by reputable steel product makers so that they adhere to the specifications.
Also the right material has to be used for fabricating the brand, not just a collection of any metal pieces lying around as some metals may not achieve the hotness that is required or may be the type of material that quickly cools down and you can hardly brand more than two animals before it gets cold.
Another important factor in hot iron branding is the cattle handling facilities. This is a huge problem among smallholder farmers as the majority do not have appropriate handling facilities to enable such an operation.
I have seen farmers having to tie an animal and it falls down, pin it on the ground so that they can apply the brand mark simply because they do not have the requisite handling facilities.
Needless to say this is time consuming and also dangerous as the animal can spring out of restraining as a result of the jolting pain of the hot iron and injure the handlers in the process.
In most cases I have seen farmers use the cattle race for hot iron branding especially around communal dip tanks.
This is very common but still not the ideal practice as in both cases mentioned animal restraining is not completely guaranteed.
The animal can still move either forward or backwards when the hot iron is applied resulting in the smudging of the burnt mark resulting in a meaningless scar rather than a mark. This makes the farmer to want to try putting the brand mark on a different place and the result is an animal with scars of many attempts of branding. Therefore, for effective and correct application of the hot iron brand mark, a cattle crush is needed. This is the restraining device fitted at the end of the cattle race and it restrains an animal by the neck such that it can neither move forward or backwards. This is then supported by a piece of log that is put across the cattle race immediately behind the animal to prevent it kicking back.
The cattle crushing come in different formats with others being a cage which takes in an animal and holds it in place while some are just a facility that clamps on the animal neck and prevent it moving either backwards or forward.
When the animal has been appropriately restrained a hot iron which has been heated by an adequately burning fire can now be applied.
The iron should at least be glowing but not red hot as this tends to burn right into the flesh and creates a wound which distorts the mark.
The iron is then held at the right place, for the right duration of time on the right side of the animal. The mark is usually placed on the rump of the animal or the right hand side with the hot iron being held on the animal for at least up to five seconds. If it is held for too long it will burn into the flesh and if it is removed too fast only the top hairs are burnt and the brand will fade away in a few weeks’ time.
I have seen animals that have personal brand marks on the left side of the animal, that is the veterinary side.
In other words this is where the department of veterinary services apply its dip tank brands and other operation brands so it should not be used.
Also when applying the brand remember to hold it facing in the right direction so that your brand mark comes out as it is shown on your brand certificate because any other shape is no longer relating to you as the owner and it can be successfully claimed by someone and you lose your animal.
Avoid branding wet animals as this cools off the brand and makes it fade quickly. The hot iron should be applied in such a way that a golden brown brand mark is created immediately after removing the iron and this will heal into a pink mark in about a week.
It is wise to have more than one hot iron brand rod so that when the other is being used the other is on the fire especially when dealing with large herds. Using one iron rod results in farmers trying to brand too many animals before returning it to the fire and the result is brand marks that fade in less than a week. Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.
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