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Difference Between Hot Branding and Freeze Branding Horses - March 12th 2021

Ownership Identification Inc. (OII) is the administrator of British Columbia’s registration and inspection program, a program that protects cattle, horse, and bison owners against loss of animals by theft, straying, or misappropriation. The program consists of the registration of livestock brands and the inspection of cattle and horses for lawful possession before transportation, sale, or slaughter.

There are a couple of different ways to brand livestock, the most common being hot branding and freeze branding. Your brand certificate will indicate the brand and position of the animal that has been given to you, but the method chosen is up to you. One question that comes up at OII is regarding the difference between hot branding and freeze branding.

What is hot branding?

Hot branding, or fire branding as it’s also known, is a longstanding method of livestock identification. It involves burning a brand into the hair follicles, resulting in permanent hair loss in that area. There are a couple of different types of irons that can be used, namely steel irons and electric irons. Electric irons maintain a consistent temperature, but with steel irons, it’s important to ensure the iron is hot enough, but not too hot. A good indicator is the color of the iron – a wood-ash gray is a preferable color.

What is freeze branding?

Freeze branding consists of cooling the branding iron to a temperature of -78C-196C. The animal is restrained while a small area of fur is shaved where the brand will be applied. Freeze branding kills the color follicles in the hair causing it to turn white permanently. In the case of white animals, the iron is kept in place long enough to freeze the hair follicle so the hair never grows back, leaving a brand in its place.

Both methods of identification have their proponents, but it is clear there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

    • Freeze branding takes longer to appear as you must wait for the hair to grow back (white) to see the brand while hot branding leaves an immediate impression. In the long term, though, freeze brands can be read at greater distances than hot-iron brands.
    • Freeze branding takes longer to prepare and apply. The iron has to be cooled carefully and applied for a significantly longer time than the hot iron.
    • Freeze branding causes no permanent harm to the animal’s skin.
    • Freeze branding requires more specialized equipment than hot-iron branding.

In either method, the animal must be restrained adequately to preserve the brand and ensure the animal’s discomfort is minimal. Feel free to read more about brands and branding in BC in our Brand Information Articles. You can also read more about our Brand Design Policy (pdf download).

OII is a company that is owned by the BC Cattlemen's Assoc., BC Breeder and Feeder Association, BC Association of Cattle Feeders, the Horse Council B.C., and the Mountain Auction Markets Association. The company is run by a Board of Directors representing the shareholders. The head office of the company is located in Kamloops, BC. OII services the BC livestock industry in supplying brand registration, transfers, and inspection.

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