Marking or branding livestock is a legal requirement, even for smallholders. First, you must register your identification number. Click here to read how to do that. Once registered, pay careful attention to how and where you mark your animals.

There are three methods of marking or branding livestock. For large animals hot iron branding (the owner burns a mark on the skin of the animal with a hot branding iron) or freeze branding (a brand mark is put on the animal using dry ice and alcohol) are most commonly used. For sheep, goats and pigs tattoo tongs and ink are used to mark the animal.

Character Requirements

Cattle: A character of an identification mark on cattle may not be smaller than 40mm or bigger than 100mm (high or wide). The characters may not be closer than 12,5mm or further apart than 19mm from each other. You may put the characters next to each other, below each other or in the form of a triangle, or an upside down triangle.

Sheep, goats, pigs: The characters of a tattoo may not be bigger than 19mm (high or wide). You may put the characters next to each other. The characters of a tattoo may not be bigger than 19mm (wide or high). The brand or tattoo may only have two characters. You must put the characters 6mm from each other. You may put the characters below each other. The tattoo marks may be put next to or below each other.

Because there are only a finite combination of letters and numerals your mark may include letters or numbers on their side rather than upright. If you choose to brand or tattoo your own animals, rather than have a registered contractor do it for you, you need to purchase the set of characters necessary for your mark. Registered markers must, of course, have access to the whole range of characters used so that they can mix and match according to the owner’s registered mark.

Marking Locations

So where do you put you brand on an animal you have bought that was previously branded by another owner? There is a sequence of locations you must follow that designates which area can be branded next as the animal changes owners.

Cattle: put the identification mark as low as possible on the body but where it can be seen easily. Do not put the mark on the feet. The first owner puts the mark on the left hind leg, the second owner puts his mark on the left shoulder, the third owner on the right hind leg and the fourth on the right shoulder. Remember, if you are hoping to make money from selling cattle hides, you can lose money if you mark in the valuable areas.

location of cattle branding
Order of branding on cattle.

Sheep, goats and pigs: the first owner tattoos in the left ear, the second owner in the right ear, the third owner in the left oxter and the fourth owner in the right oxter.

sheep brand locations
Location of marking on sheep, goats and pigs.

Hot Iron Branding

Use a separate iron for each character of the mark, it is easier. Get someone to help you. The helper must bring the animal close and hold it firmly. If you have a crushpen, branding will be easier. Heat the iron well. When the iron becomes whitish it is hot enough. You may test the iron on a piece of wood to see if it is hot enough. Knee-halter the animals so that they do not kick you. Take the first iron and put it against the animal’s skin for a slowish count of three. Do not press. Remove the iron. Take the second iron and do the same. And the same with the third until your registration number has been completed. Spray some cold water on to the brand so that the animal’s skin can cool down. You can also spray wound oil on the mark. Do not wipe it with a cloth and never rub manure on the mark.

Freeze Branding

Gather the equipment: coolant such as dry ice in ethyl, methyl or isopropyl alcohol and liquid nitrogen, isolated container for the coolant, set of copper or high-quality bronze alloy branding irons, set of clippers, 95% ethyl or methyl alcohol, gloves. Now to brand: The helper must bring the animal close and hold it firmly. If you have a crushpen, branding will be easier. Knee-halter your animals so that they do not kick you. Shave off the hair on the spot to be branded. Freeze the irons by putting them in liquid nitrogen or in spirits which has been chilled to -40°C by means of dry ice. When the irons stop giving off bubbles they are cold enough to brand letters on to the skin. Shake off the nitrogen or spirits, otherwise the flow-off or drips will also leave a mark on the skin. Press hard for the following exposure times: Animals of six to eight months ~ 20 to 25 seconds; animals of nine to 18 months ~ 25 to 30 seconds; animals over 18 months ~ 30 to 35 seconds.


Get someone to help you. The helper must put the animal on its side and hold it firmly. Put the characters in the right order and position in the tattoo tongs. Wearing a pair of rubber gloves to prevent tattoo ink stains on your hands, apply the tattoo ink on the area to be branded (ears or oxters). Press the tongs until little holes on the skin appear. Rub the ink into the holes. The tattooing process is complete.

Tattoo of identification ‘BWF’. Note the ‘W’ on its side – sometimes your registered identification number will include letters upside down, or on their sides.

6 thoughts on “Marking or Branding Livestock: The Ins and Outs

  1. The formvsays it’s only valid from March 2021 till March 2023 and I can’t find the 2023/2024 one.

  2. I’ve done a payment and I’ve done filling in the form and signing it. Where do I actually register the sign. ie. SPW

    1. The Registrar will decide and issue you with the mark. You don’t get to choose your own (because it’s probably already registered). There is a long delay in the issuing of brand marks.

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