Despite all animals having two large ear tags, the popularity of freeze-branding dairy animals hasn’t waned over the last decade, with Farm Relief Services (FRS) and freeze-branding technicians reporting heavy demand for their services.
Freeze-branding is the process of branding an animal with an extremely cold iron, which causes the hair which was in contact with the iron to lose its pigmentation and to grow back white, thereby leaving a permanent identification on the animal.
Copper alloy irons with elevated numbers are cooled using liquid nitrogen to -250°C and alcohol or methylated spirits are used to clean the hair around where the brand is to go.
The hair should be clipped before branding. The brands are in contact with the skin for up to a minute depending on how cold the iron is.
The big advantage of freeze-branding is that it is a permanent identification on the animal that is easy to see in the milking parlour, in the field or behind cows while bringing them up the farm roadway.
For this reason, it is mostly dairy farmers who are interested in freeze-branding.
The best time to freeze-brand is when an animal is young, because this means that the brand will grow in size with the animal.
Most farmers will get their weanling or yearling heifers freeze-branded over the winter. It takes about three months for the brand to appear.
Best results are achieved when animals with black hair are freeze-branded. Animals with a lot of white hair on their hind quarters are sometimes more difficult to do. Similarly, results are not as good with Jersey or Jersey-crossbred animals because the colour change in their hair is sometimes harder to see.
Costs of freeze-branding varies. FRS charges around €70 for the first ten animals and then €6/animal thereafter for an animal to be freeze-branded with three digits. To do four digits, they charge 60c/animal extra.
The service is also provided by a range of contractors, many of whom advertise in the classifieds section of the Irish Farmers Journal and on www.toplink.ie.