MOUNT VERNON, Mo. —
Using electric shears, Kris Callison cleared off a patch of hair from the hip of a calf.
“You want the site to be twice as big as the brand,” she said. “You then spray it with 99 percent alcohol. It cannot be rubbing alcohol, which contains water. The brand will cause the water to freeze.”
The brand, dipped in a coolant such as dry ice or liquid nitrogen, is held on the hip for one minute.
“It doesn’t smell like a hot brand, does it?” Callison said. “And the calf doesn’t jump around as much. After a while, they don’t feel it.”
Rather than burning a scar into the animal, a freeze brand damages the pigment-producing hair cells, causing the animal’s hair to grow white where the brand has been applied.
Removing the brand, she said: “Touch it. It’s not hot. It’s as hard as a rock. We’re making our cows gray early. This hair comes back white.”
As Callison demonstrated freeze branding, she touched on the problem of cattle rustling — the reason why hundreds of cattle owners got out in the cold Tuesday to visit the Jackie Moore Ranch, where branding demonstrations were staged by the University of Missouri Extension office in Lawrence County, the Southwest Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and area sheriffs’ departments.
“It would hit us hard if we had just one or two cattle taken in a theft,” Callison said.
Brad DeLay, sheriff of Lawrence County, said a spate of cattle thefts across Southwest Missouri in recent weeks has subsided. Officials say as many as 200 head of cattle have been stolen in the past two years in Southwest Missouri, creating a potential loss of $200,000. The most recent theft was reported about a month ago in Greene County.
“I think there is an awareness kicking in now,” DeLay said. “People are more watchful, and they are coming to branding demonstrations like this one. This won’t solve everything, but seeing a brand on someone’s cattle might deter a theft.”
Darrel Franson, a Mount Vernon cattleman, has been using a freezing brand since the mid-1990s. So far, none of his cattle have been stolen. But he is aware of where his farm is vulnerable as a cattle rustler might see it.
“They (rustlers) have got to have light to sort out the calves worth stealing,” he said. “That’s why I get out and patrol part of my farm on moonlit nights. I know where they would try to get in.”
Roene Blankenship, who lives northeast of Carthage, said her neighbors have been hit by thieves. She said she and her husband, Donald, had settled on freeze branding.
“We have dark-haired cattle,” she said. “When it comes in white, it’s easier to see.”
She said she was surprised by Tuesday’s turnout.
“They’re people here from Mexico, Mo.,” she said. “That’s a long way away.”
While cattle owners watched the branding demonstration, Eldon Cole, a cattle expert with University of Missouri Extension in Lawrence County, talked about the history of branding and how it has deterred theft and settled ownership issues. He said brands can now be used as a trademark and marketing aid for a cattle owner.
Though Missouri has a branding law, enacted in 1971, it does not have brand inspections at regional stockyards. But having a brand, Cole said, is a still good way to identify the ownership of cattle since tattoos can be removed and ear tags can be cut away.
Said Cole: “There is not a lot of enforcement in Missouri brand law. But a brand is like a return address. You might get them back, and you might not.”
A registered brand, under Missouri law, must have two or more characters. It costs $35 to register a brand for five years with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Cole said.
ANYONE WITH INFORMATION relating to a cattle theft may call the tip line at 888-484-8477. Rewards of $5,000 for the arrest and conviction of cattle thieves are offered by both the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and the Missouri Farm Bureau.