Branding is a technique for marking livestock so as to identify the owner.
Originally, livestock branding only referred to a hot brand for large stock, though the term is now also used to refer to other alternative techniques such as freeze branding. The act of marking livestock with fire-heated marks to identify ownership dates back to the ancient Egyptians.
In the American West, a branding iron consisted of an iron rod with a simple symbol or mark, which cowboys heated in a fire. After the branding iron turned red-hot, the cowboy pressed the branding iron against the hide of the cow. The unique brand meant that cattle owned by multiple ranches could then graze freely together on the open range. Cowboys could then separate the cattle at round-up time.
The traditional cowboy or stockman captured and secured an animal for branding by roping it, laying it over on the ground, tying its legs together, and applying a branding iron heated in a fire. Modern ranch practice has shifted toward use of chutes where animals can be run into a confined area and safely secured while the brand is applied. Two types of restraint are the cattle crush or squeeze chute (for larger cattle), which may close on either side of a standing animal, or a branding cradle, where calves are caught in a cradle which is rotated so that the animal is lying on its side.
The branding iron is only applied for the amount of time needed to burn off the hair and create a permanent mark. If applied too long, it can damage the skin and require treatment for potential infection. Stock that are wet when branded may result in the smudging of the brand. Long-haired animals may need regular clipping of the area to view the brand.