Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Livestock branding in the American west has evolved into a complex marking system still in use today.
Originally the word brand meant anything hot or burning, such as a fire-brand, a burning stick; by the European Middle Ages it commonly identified the process of burning a mark into a stock animal with a thick hide, such as a cow, so as to identify ownership. In the American West, a branding iron consisted of an iron rod with a seal-like mark which ranchers heated in a fire. After the branding iron turned red-hot, the rancher pressed the seal-like marker against the hide of the cow. The unique mark meant that the cow could then graze freely among other cattle on the free-range of the American West. Drovers could then separate the cattle at round-up time for driving to market. More recently, however, ear-tags attached to the cattle have superseded the branding iron. These customs of the American West evolved from the practices of the vaqueros.
Free-range grazing is less common today than in the past. However, branding still has its uses. The main purpose is in proving ownership of lost or stolen animals. Many western US states have strict laws regarding brands, including brand registration and required brand inspections. In many cases, a brand on an animal is considered prima facie proof of ownership.
Symbols in branding
Most brands in the United States are capital letters, numerals, other characters (such as slash, circle, half circle, cross, and bar), and combinations thereof. Brands of this type have a specialized language for "calling" the brand. Some owners prefer to use simple pictures; these brands are called using a short description of the picture (e.g., "rising sun").
Letters and numerals can appear upright, reversed, or turned 90 degrees so that the character appears to be lying down or lazy. Upright symbols are called normally, reversed symbols are called with the word reverse before the name of the symbol (e.g. "reverse K"), and turned symbols similarly with the word lazy (e.g., "lazy 5"). Combinations of symbols can be made in the straightforward manner (left to right), or they may be connected (symbols are touching, ), combined (symbols are partially overlaid, ), or hanging (symbols are touching, but arranged top to bottom).
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