When retired Moffat County Brand Inspector Floyd Martin visits area elementary schools to talk about branding, he hands the students a comical drawing of a cow stuffed into a mailbox.
"Brands are how you get your cows back," he tells the students. "The brand is a cow's return address."
Indeed, a brand is used to identify a cow's owner - and that goes for sheep and horses, too.
It all began as early as 2,000 B.C. That's according to "Cattle in Colorado History," an educational booklet written by Jo Stanko and Bette Blinde and produced by the Colorado CattleWomen and Colorado Beef Council.
According to the booklet, pictures on the walls of Egyptian tombs show that cattle were branded back then. The Spanish were the first to brand cattle in the American West, and eventually the practice spread throughout the West to deter cattle rustling.
Brands first were recorded in 1867. It was the job of the Colorado Stockgrowers Association (which eventually became the Colorado Cattlemen's Association). In 1879, the Colorado Brand Board took over the recording job, and the Brand Board continues in that capacity today.
Cara Wells, brand recorder for the Colorado Brand Board, said that there are more than 35,000 cattle and sheep brands registered in Colorado at present. Cattle brands also are used on horses. All of the brands are published in a Colorado Brand Book.
In Colorado, brands can be put on any location on an animal, including left hip, right hip, ribs or shoulder. Irons heated in a fire or electric irons are used to brand cattle. Sometimes, freeze branding is used, especially with horses. Sheep brands usually are painted on.
Colorado brand owners pay an assessment fee, per brand, every five years. The last brand assessment, due January 2007, was $255 per brand, though the Colorado Brand Board could increase the fee for the next assessment.
What happens if a brand owner does not pay the assessment fee? Wells explained that if the fee was not paid for 2007, for example, the brand will be canceled June 30, 2010. Then after the canceled brand is abandoned for five years, on June 30, 2015, the Colorado Brand Board can do research to see if the brand can be reissued.
The same research process is used when issuing new brands. It involves checking to see if there's a brand similar to it that might cause conflict when identifying an animal's owner.
A person wanting to obtain a new brand needs to contact the Colorado Brand Board to get an application. The applicant has to draw out the brand and send it back to the Brand Board with a $50 initiation fee. (Applicants are encouraged to send in several proposed brands.)
If research shows there's no brand similar to that proposed, it will be approved and a $135 fee assessed.
Most of the new brands include three characters. Two-character brands often are too similar to other already existing brands.
Brands most often are passed down from generation to generation. Wells said that brands generally sell from $1,500 to $3,500, depending on how old they are. Some sell for more than $3,500.
It's common to see brands on such things as napkins, signs and china. Wells cautions that people should not use a person's brand without getting permission. Sometimes a person's brand is a trademark, registered with the Secretary of State's office.
Some ranchers use an ear mark in addition to a brand. The ear mark is used so that there's another way to identify an animal. This especially is useful when cattle are in mountain areas when it's hard to see a brand. Wells said that some ranchers use different ear marks for heifers and steers, making it easier to sort them. Ear marks do not have to be registered.
Lately there's been discussion in the agricultural community about using microchips that can be implanted into the ears of livestock. Wells said that the chips are not used in place of branding. That's because the chips have to be "read," similarly to the way items are at the grocery store check-out.
Besides that, the chips are easily lost when cattle rub on trees and brush.
Martin said that the chips are "too time consuming, too slow and too expensive."
Coming June 20: More about brands and branding.
Copyright Diane Prather, 2009. All rights reserved. Diane Prather can be reached by calling 824-8809.