Why branding is important to the Canadian beef industry
By Emily Pearson, University of Saskatchewan
When we hear the word branding a lot of different opinions thoughts and questions come to mind. Animal welfare activists say it is wrong and painful. Producers say it is harmless and necessary. Some consumers are completely oblivious to the fact that their hamburger at one point or another may have had a hot metal brand on it once or twice. Coming from a cattle farm in Manitoba, it is hard to see the need for branding as it seldom performed and is not regulated within the province. I’ve seen brands, specifically in western Canada, and have always wondered why. I wanted to know the importance of branding and the role it plays in the Canadian beef industry, despite the pushback from activists. I discovered it does have its place in our industry and until realistic alternatives are created, it is needed.
For those that don’t know, a brand is, as defined by Livestock Identification Services, “a permanent mark applied to livestock for identification purposes”(2020). It can be further characterized as a combination of certain characters and symbols on a specific area of the animal. There is cause for concern by those both outside and inside the industry because branding is typically performed by a hot iron. However, branding usually occurs when doing other production activities to the cattle such as castration and dehorning; in some cases, oral meloxicam is even given as a pain reliever at this time.
The Canadian Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle states that branding continues to be a necessary form of identification in certain parts of Canada (National Farm Animal Care Council, 2013); specifically, the three most western Canadian provinces where livestock theft is prominent. The code also puts forward that there is scientific evidence that shows branding causes short-term acute pain and stress. If branding was not necessary, the codes simply would not allow it. The code is there to regulate the procedure and make it as safe, painless, and as non-reoccurring as possible. In terms of branding, the code requires that it must be performed with the proper equipment, restraint, and by personnel with training or an adequate mix of knowledge and experience to minimize pain to the animal (National Farm Animal Care Council, 2013). It also has a multitude of recommendations including the brand size should be the right size for the animal, you should avoid re-branding, you should talk to your veterinarian for advice on controlling pain associated with branding, and you should maintain all cattle identification equipment (National Farm Animal Care Council, 2013).
There is a lot of pressure from the public to use less painful measures to identify livestock. Specifically, the codes provide alternatives to hot branding such as freeze branding and tags. It is a requirement that all cattle must be identified using an approved ear tag (National Farm Animal Care Council, 2013). However, ear tags are not a feasible solution due to the ease of cutting them out. Freeze branding can be a less painful alternative. It is the action of using liquid nitrogen to remove pigment and producing white hair in the shape of a brand. This is problematic because it would not work on white or lighter coloured animals and it also takes more training and skill. Although there are alternatives to branding the codes state “until practical alternatives to branding are available, producers can minimize the impact of branding on the animal by using correct techniques.” An alternative route taken by producers to minimize pain is only branding calves that are intended to be kept and will not be sold or sent for slaughter.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia are the only three provinces that have brand registries and brand inspection services. These registries require you to register your brand, this entails payment, renewal, as well as filling out a lengthy application (LIS, 2020). Although in these provinces it is not required to brand, if you use an unregistered brand, that is considered breaking the law (Furber, 2016). If you chose to not brand your cattle, you are accepting the risk of not having proof of ownership. Although the prevalence of stolen cattle is decreasing, it still happens. If these stolen cattle are put up for sale but are branded and the brand is registered, that is proof of ownership. If cattle are brought to auction with a brand that is not registered to the seller, a receipt needs to be provided in order for them to be accepted. Brand inspectors are from each provinces’ brand registry are there to inspect auction marts across the province and have the authority to hold cattle until ownership is determined (Furber, 2016).
Branding is crucial to the industry in the western provinces and it is key to keeping those producers profitable. It is done with purpose and is regulated at multiple points. Coming from a province that does not regulate/require branding, I still believe that branding plays an important role in Western Canadian provinces. I am able to see the necessity of keeping cattle safe and producers profitable. There are regulations in place for a reason and if there was a practical alternative, I believe it would be accepted and used by producers. Producers don’t want to cause pain to their livestock, I’ve seen that firsthand. I think there should be more trust in producers to know what is right for their livestock and their livelihood.
My name is Emily Pearson and I am in my third year of animal science with a minor in agribusiness at the U of S. I grew up just outside of Minnedosa, Manitoba on my family’s commercial cattle operation. Growing up on the farm fueled my passion for agriculture. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in the industry for the rest of my life. In the future, I hope to take over the family farm and spend my time being an advocate for the agriculture community and for farmers’ mental health!