June 12, 2024
As technology improves, should ranchers keep branding their livestock?
An Alberta veterinarian says that technology such as ear tags with GPS and microchips can do the job of tracking and identification cattle that branding has fulfilled.
An Alberta veterinarian says that technology such as ear tags with GPS and microchips can do the job of tracking and identification cattle that branding has fulfilled.

EDMONTON — Tied up in history and tradition, branding livestock is practically as old as ranching itself. But, it hurts the animal, there’s no doubt about that, and an Alberta veterinarian is questioning whether or not modern technology might mean that many ranchers can phase out the practice.

Branding is not exceedingly common in Canada. In Alberta, roughly half of all calves in the province in any given year are branded, estimates Livestock Identification Services Ltd. But it’s only really a practice in the three westernmost provinces, the only places where there are registries and inspections. Roy Lewis, a Calgary veterinarian who worked with cattle for three decades and recently wrote a column in an agriculture newspaper questioning the utility of branding, estimates the national rate at closer to 10 per cent.

He argues — or at least raises the possibility — that technology such as ear tags with GPS and microchips can do the job of tracking and identification cattle that, since the time of the Egyptians, branding has fulfilled.

“Lots has changed from the days of the wide-open range where cattle were mixed and the brand was the only proof of ownership,” writes Lewis in an article in the Alberta Farmer Express newspaper.

Still, many ranchers stand by the usefulness of branding; there are 54,463 lifetime brands registered in Alberta, said Shawn McLean, the general manager of Livestock Identification Services Ltd., which registers and tracks brands in Alberta.

“It’s still a … proof of ownership,” McLean said. “If I brand something I don’t own I’m breaking the law. So it’s proof of ownership unless there’s better proof.”

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