Cattle Branding

When cattle gets branded, what stops them from getting an infection and dying?

The standard bovine immune system, pretty much.

It is pretty much standard to give shots, including possibly antibiotics and vaccines, at the same time you run cattle through the branding process. People have been branding cattle long before there were antibiotics though, and if it killed a lot of cattle, another system would have been devised. In fact, a lot of cattle are not branded any more, although it’s more economics. Ear tags, clipping ears for ID, even tattoos are common now.

The searing effect of branding doesn’t leave a wound as open as a laceration, or even a burn on a person, whose much thinner skin would be completely destroyed. It is still a wound though, and really it just does come down to the unlikelihood of any really dangerous bacteria becoming involved, and the normal animal immunity being sufficient for the injury.

There is, and I am not making this up, a cow version of Neosporin. Not sure if organic dairy cows can be on the line if they have had this applied topically but anyway, they would be tagged long before actual milk production starts so I’m guessing they probably use it. Some organic dairies use natural antibiotics like huge amounts of garlic. It won’t stop an enormous festering infection but it can stop small infections from getting bigger so they can heal.

My grandparents would douse a serious wound on a farm animal with a mixture of something called “pine tar” and turpentine. It was also used on castration wounds and clipping lambs tails.

You are probably thinking of ‘bag balm’.

Yep, we brand with hot irons from a fire and from a gen truck and the most treatment we give them is a quick swipe with a glove to knock the seared hair off. Of the many thousands we’ve never had a calf show signs of infection or worse.

Every calf branding I’ve ever been involved with (it’s different with adult cattle) combined all of the traumatic stuff at once. The calves got their shots and their brand at the same time – and the castration for the males. No ointment was used on the scrotum after cutting it open to remove the testicles, either, and I never saw a young steer (or goat, when we castrated those) get an infection from that.

With all of this traumatic stuff at once, why aren’t there massive infections?

We always sprayed a disinfectant on the castrated area.

I don’t know. I’m not a veterinarian, just a guy who helped out friends at brandings.

With my own calves, we did use a spray like Nars referenced – although we didn’t with the goats.

My F-I-L is a large animal Vet. I’ll ask as it’s a good question. And yeah, we brand, cut, dehorn if necessary, hormone in the ear, everything all at once. One stress, then let 'em pair up and back to pasture.

For background, Dad would raise about 300 calves and buy another 200 or so weaned calves to raise as yearlings. All these would get branded, etc. We helped neighbors work their calves. In all those calves, problems were very rare.

In a young calf, castration is a minor operation. Very little blood and over quickly. We would splash a little of the water & disinfectant mix that the scapel was kept soaking in on the area. Some people used the spray. The guy doing the cutting did nothing else and was very conscious of not getting his hands dirty. Usually we would set up portable corrals on grass for a cleaner enviroment than found in the corrals. IMHO, “cutting” is more humane than the rubber band method.

Once in a while, we would have a bull in the calves we bought. In a older animal, there was more of a chance of problems but usually was not a big deal.

Branding is a burn that heals quickly. I’ve never heard of a problem with that.

Shots are just like a human getting a shot and eartags are just like ear piercing.

Young calves with horns starting would get the horn cauterized. That wasn’t a big deal. In older animals with horns already growing, dehorning was something that you had to be careful with because some animals would bleed more than others. It had to be done because the cattle can hurt each other with the horns.

With young calves, most of the stress & trauma was from being seperated from their mothers and being handled. We tried to do things smoothly and quickly to minimize the stress.

I want to stress that the health & welfare of their cattle is something that the vast majority of ranchers take very seriously because of economics as well as being the right thing to do. As a kid, I’ve had my dinner plate taken away until any forgotten chores were done.:slight_smile: The animals came first.

Okay, asked our longtime rancher/large animal Vet for his take of some of this. He runs thousands of his own every year and works tens of thousands more.
Hot branding; minor trauma and he’s never lost a calf, nor heard of anyone else that has from this. It is easier to go with tags and the decision may in part be driven by the type of operation you’re running, wide open pasture or pens, etc.
De-horning; cauterizing usually prevents any infection but much of the need to even do this at all has been bred out of a lot of the stock available today.
Castration; this is where the problems can occur most easily. He’s been on calls where maybe 1 in 25 bled out afterwards. What’s likely happened is that when they were cutting they pulled down too hard on the testicles and, once cut, the blood vessels sipped bqck up inside the calf and it bled internally without anyone knowing until dying. He’s seen very large clots and blood-starved, whitish muscle tissue so pretty conclusive on those autopsies. A lot of ranchers are going to the testicle bands now. The calves will go lay down for an hour or two after you put them on so they’re in pretty obvious discomfort but okay after that. The downside is that Tetanus is a concern with this method. The good thing is that many of the vaccinations administered at the same time, like for Black Leg, have a Tetanus component (7+1) to them.