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Freeze Branding Horses

Freeze Branding

To apply "super cooled" iron to a horse's hide resulting in an easily read, identifying mark or brand, can be applied to any age horse. Freeze branding destroys pigment-forming (color) cells of the hair follicle. Hair continues to grow, but will grow in white. With white, gray or roan horses the iron is applied longer resulting in destruction of the hair follicle, which results in a hairless or bald brand.

Ghost Warrior & his freeze brand. He was branded 11/7/2002. This photo was taken 1/30/2003. Shows white hair growing in.

Why Freeze Brand?
Freeze branding has become popular  because it is safe, economical and easy to do. The brand is legible, permanent and can be read from a distance. Branded horses are less likely to be targets of thieves, if stolen marked horses can be more easily traced by law enforcement officers. Brands can discourage fraudulent practices with registration papers. Some breeders freeze brand to distinguish horses they have bred. Freeze branding is relatively painless for the horse, especially compared to hot iron branding. Hot iron branding can result in a blotched, unreadable brand.

Our home state of South Dakota is a brand state; brands are legal proof of ownership. A brand cannot be chosen and used at random; we must apply to the state Brand Board for a brand. It is illegal to brand a horse with an unregistered brand. Law regarding brands differ state to state. In South Dakota freeze branding became a legal horse brand in SD in 2002 so we decided to brand our horses. We are very pleased with the results and would recommend the practice of freeze branding to other horse owners.
Check for applicable laws in your state.

Equipment Needed

Branding Iron
Irons made of brass or copper especially for freeze branding give the best results as they hold cold better. We ordered ours from the NASCO Farm Supply Catalog. Existing metal hot brand irons can be used but may not give the best results. Brands with thin or chipped faces should not be used. Different sizes are available. Consideration has to be given to the fact that the brand will grow with the horse, thus we use a smaller brand for colts.

We use liquid nitrogen as we have it available thru use of AI on our dairy farm. Liquid nitrogen is generally available from suppliers of artificial insemination equipment and semen. Cost will be for nitrogen and container rent. Liquid nitrogen should be handled with care. Don't allow contact with human skin. Wear gloves, eye protection and long sleeved shirt.

Container for Nitrogen
We use a small Styrofoam cooler, size need only be big enough to hold iron with coolant covering the brand. Too large wastes coolant. We used a towel over the top of the cooler to help prevent evaporation of the nitrogen. Coolant is added to the cooler as needed.
For handling iron

Cooler and branding iron we use

Two different size irons we use,
showing the "face" of the irons

Site to be branded will first need to be clipped, preferably with a very fine/surgical blade.

Squirt bottle with 99% Alcohol
used to clean the brand site, aids in transfer of cold to skin
For tracking time iron is applied

Branding Procedure

Preferably 3, one to hold horse, one to do the branding, one to be the timer.
Restraint of Horses
Horses need to be restrained to prevent movement during branding. Some gentle horses may tolerate freeze branding just by being held. A twitch may be used on some horses. Various tranquilizers may be employed. We built a horse-handling chute that has worked very well for us for various procedures, including halter-breaking colts, worming horses, handling barely broke horses etc..

1. Place cooler near branding area. Chill irons by placing in container of liquid nitrogen. Irons are ready when liquid stops bubbling/boiling. Place cooler near branding area.
2. Clean brand site. Clip in a square shape. This will aid in proper placement of the brand, straight bottom = straight brand
3. Timer gets ready, positioned near branding area
Squirt room temperature alcohol over brand site to remove skin oil and help transfer cold from iron to skin.

Sequoyah's Blue Sky peeks out of the chute. Horses enter from the rear, can exit out the front. Sides open various ways to allow for different procedures.
5. Immediately after alcohol soak, remove iron from coolant, align and firmly press square on brand site. As iron is pressed to skin brander says "ON". This is the signal to the timer to start stopwatch. Brander should hold iron still as possible, applying 35 to 45 pounds of steady pressure. No part of iron should loose contact with skin. Subtle rocking motion is recommended, but don't wrinkle skin. When time is up timer should say "OFF", brander removes iron. Brand is finished.
In our experience horses don't move when brand is 1st applied, but several seconds into the process they may "jump". Brander should try to move with horse. If iron comes off before time is up, it is very hard to relocate exact area and determine how much time had elapsed before movement occurred. Application time is critical to look of final brand. Most problems in freeze branding occur due to improper application time. Following is a chart to use for a guide to branding times. Branders can "calibrate" their freeze branding by keeping accurate records of times and results. Brand times vary according to type of metal in iron and the age (skin thickness) and color of horses.

Branding Times For Two Types of Irons - to be used as a guide
Horse Color Stainless Steel Iron Copper/Brass Iron
Dark Horses 8 Seconds 7 Seconds
Light Horses 13 Seconds 12 Seconds

Post Branding Results

After removing iron, brand mark will appear indented. Quickly this indent will disappear. After about 5 to 10 minutes a raised welt in the shape of the brand should be visible. After a few days the swelled pattern disappears. In approximately 1 to 2 months the top layer of skin sheds. After 2 to 3 months white hair starts growing in. 3 to 4 months later white hair growth will be complete. On light horses requiring longer branding times (or dark horses with irons accidentally left on too long) the chain of events will be the same until the 2 to 3 month mark when no hair will grow back, resulting in a bald brand. Occasionally a "streaked" brand, natural color along with white hairs, will be produced, resulting from a too short contact time.


Ghost's indented brand

Raised appearance of brand
Source of Freeze Branding Irons
L&H Branding Irons
410 6th Street SE
Mandan, North Dakota 58554
Phone  800-437-8068
web site   www.lhbrandingirons.com

Following are some of our
Freeze Branded horses.

MP Fancy Lacy
Branded 11/7/2002
MP Dream Keeper
Branded 5/31/2002
MP Mystic Illusion
Branded 5/31/2002
MP Masquerade
Branded 5/31/2002