By Tyler Harris and Mindy Ward
On Easter Sunday, Larry Mallory from Mount Vernon woke up to find 17 calves and a cow had been stolen. "The cow was branded, and I'm sure they didn't want her," he notes. "They gathered them up in a pen, sorted the calves off, and they went in and loaded them."
Mallory is one of many farmers taking up the practice of branding beef cattle. "We're going to start branding the baby calves, as much as I hate to."
University of Missouri Extension livestock specialists Andrew McCorkill and Eldon Cole are hearing from a number of farmers in southwest Missouri wanting to know more about branding. "Branding is growing in interest around here," McCorkill says. "Cattlemen are looking at it as one way to possibly deter cattle theft."
Looking for solutions
More than 200 farmers from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, converged at the Jackie Moore Ranch near Mount Vernon to learn the techniques of branding beef cattle. Cole told the group that there are merits to taking the time to put a "return address" on your animals.
Glenn and Kris Callison, Simmental breeders from Verona, Mo, gave attendees a demonstration of freeze branding. "They have been branding with the super cold iron about two years with excellent success," Cole says. The freeze branding technique is useful on dark-haired beef cattle and horses since the new hair grows back white. And the process creates less damage to the hide than a hot iron brand.
However, there are a few drawbacks to freeze branding. The process requires dry ice and a solution such as 99% alcohol or gasoline to super cool the iron. The copper iron must be left in place for 40 seconds, so the animal must be restrained. McCorkill adds that left on too long the freeze brand will burn like the fire brand. If left on too short of time, the brand will not be clear. He also warns that this method does not work well with light-colored beef cattle.
Cole says that seedstock producers and cow-calf operators primarily use the freeze brand, while stocker cattle producers typically rely on the hot iron method. But either method could serve as a deterrent to potential cattle thieves.
"I never dreamed somebody would go in there and sort the calves off the cows and steal them," Mallory says. "They're not afraid of the law." He has heard of cattlemen stolen from three times. Most thefts have occurred within Jasper, Lawrence, Greene and Berry Counties. "In some places, you can't go two or three miles without driving by farms calves have been stolen from."