Ag in Action 2017
By DEB HILL
News-Argus Managing Editor
You’d think, in 2017, branding cattle for identification
would be a thing of the past. Why not just equip each cow
with a microchip, like we do with pets? That way, if they
stray, someone can just run a reader over them and find out
whose cow it is.
Well, according to Leslie Doely, administrator of the
Montana Department of Livestock Brands Enforcement
Division, brands are here to stay, at least for now.
“The reason branding is still effective is because it can’t
be altered,” Doely said. “We call it the ‘universal return
Ear tags, Doely said, can be cut out or damaged such that
they can no longer be read. Freeze brands can be altered.
Implanted chips can fall out, move or stop working.
But a hot iron brand can still be read even if someone has
tried to alter it (although the cow would need to be skinned
to see the original scar on the hide).
The state’s brand inspectors, Doely said, are uniquely
trained to read and recognize brands.
“Ear tags are good from a distance,” she said, “but brands
are good whether ear tags are present or not.”
Do rustlers still exist?
Branding began as a way to identify cattle on open
range. While little open range still exists, branding also
serves to identify ownership, especially in cases where
cattle have mysteriously wound up on the wrong ranch.
“Most of our reports involve situations without willful
stealing, such as where someone hauled a truck of cows
to auction and got some of the neighbor’s cows in with
theirs, or where someone’s cows cross over to someone
else’s place,” Doely said. “But we do get reports of stolen
cows and horses now and then.”
In the 2016 calendar year, Doely said, her office took
reports of 550 missing cows. Ten of those were recovered,
all of which were branded. In 2014, 400 head of cattle were
reported missing and 16 were recovered.
“Rustling is very difficult to track and we are in the
midst of improving our metrics on reports of missing
cattle,” she said. “Only a very small percent of those
reported missing are recovered and most of the time we
have no way to know if the missing animals were stolen,
died of natural causes or were killed by predators.”
Rustlers and brands
Cattle theft still an issue in Central MontanaContinued on page 39