You shouldn't see how sausage is made.  Nor see how livestock is butchered and processed into your meat.  Similarly, you shouldn't see a cattle branding.

It's muddy.  It's bloody.  It's smoky.  It's not pretty.

And it is part of the ranch business that puts animal lovers and animal rights activists into a tizzy.  "It's Cruelty!"

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I acknowledge that for the steer, the branding is stressful.  I don't deny it at all.  But how much time is the animal in that intense situation?

At a recent branding on the family ranch, I timed the proceedings with a stopwatch app on the smartphone.  I set the timer shortly after the cow entered the squeeze chute and stopped it shortly after it left.  I was busy prodding the livestock into the chute.

No, I did not take photos.  Just take my word for it.  I refer to the nine words in the second paragraph.

antique branding iron
Credit: F.C.G., TSM Media Center

The times were as follows, giving the range for circumstances:

  • Steers: 1:00 - 1:30 minutes, spent in the branding and vaccinating
  • Bulls: 1:30 - 2:30 minutes, for branding, vaccinating, and the banding to castrate the animal
  • Horned Cattle: 3:30 - 4:00 minutes, for the above, plus cutting off the horns and cauterizing the head wounds to stop the bleeding.
  • Doctoring: around 4:00 minutes, including the above and treating the affliction.

After all that, the steer is released to graze on hay and have a drink of water.  After a day to monitor for any sicknesses, the cattle are released into open range.  For the spring and summer and fall, they are free to graze in the Montana countryside with reservoirs within their walking distance for drinks of water.  Free and easy.  They are disturbed by horseback riders only to move them to fresh grass and water, and later to ship them on to the feedlot.

Cows gathering around the feeding trough in winter
Credit: Danamallard51, TSM Media Center

So while the branding event is hard, from the animal's point of view, it is also relatively short.

You will spend more time eating the hamburger or the steak, even if trying to wolf it down, then the animal spent in the branding.  Pet owners inflict more stress time on their dog or cat with a bath or the vet.  Where are the animal lovers on these?  Oh, wait, they are the ones inflicting this loving stress.

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