THEFT & LAW Law Enforcement Tips

Why Should I Brand My Cattle?

By Kristin Lewis Hawkins

TSCRA Special Rangers and county law enforcement agencies strongly encourage all livestock owners to brand their cattle for the purposes of identification and proof of ownership, especially in cases of theft, estray or natural disaster. After thousands of years, branding is still used today because it’s simply the best way to identify the ownership of livestock.

Branding is also the best way for law enforcement, judges and attorneys to identify animals involved in civil or criminal investigations at the local, state and federal levels. In addition, the Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas Department of Agriculture and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Identification Service (APHIS) can use brands for traceback in cases of animal disease.

The most common use for branding is to identify and verify ownership of cattle that have strayed or ended up somewhere they shouldn’t be. Brands are a permanent mark, unlike plastic ear tags that can be removed. Brands can also be read from a distance, so often a pair of good eyes or binoculars is all the equipment required.

Even in bright sunlight, all Angus cows can look alike, but a clear brand can help sort out who is who and what doesn’t belong in a field of similar animals.

In the case of stolen cattle, a clear, registered brand can speed up an investigation and get cattle returned to the rightful owner, usually with a minimum of fuss and confusion. Brands registered by Texas county clerk are sent to TSCRA and entered into a searchable electronic database. TSCRA market inspectors record information on all the animals that pass through livestock markets, including brands of cattle sold and seller information.

This allows TSCRA’s special rangers to determine if cattle with your brand passed through a livestock market in Texas and who brought them. However, if your cattle are just one of hundreds of unbranded 600-weight black steers that sold in a particular week, the investigation gets much more complicated.

Brand young and new animals as soon as possible. Every week you put it off is another week a thief could decide to pass on your neighbor’s branded calves and take your unbranded ones. Thieves have admitted that branded cattle are not as tempting as those that are unbranded. A brand and a blue POSTED sign are all that have changed the mind of more than one thief.

Natural disaster
In a natural disaster such as flood, fire, blizzard or storm, animals and wildlife often end up scattered miles from home. A brand can make identification of animals much easier, and paired with owner information on a plastic ear tag, can help officials coordinating disaster response and recovery during a disaster.

“During the 2016 blizzard in the Panhandle we found a lot of cattle with names and phone numbers on the ear tags,” says TSCRA Special Ranger H.D. Brittain, District 19 in West Texas. “It was very handy and made notifying the owner or caretaker much easier. With the brand and the information on the ear tag, it made simple work of getting the cattle back home, many of which were miles from their home range.”

On a sadder note, it made notifying the owner of losses much easier, as well.

“We could document these two identifiers (brand and ear tag with owner name and phone) to use in the assistance programs sometimes offered in times of natural disasters. Nothing takes the place of the brand to determine ownership, but if you are going to use numbered ear tags, for a few cents more at least add a phone number,” Brittain said.

Other Livestock
According to the Texas Agriculture Code Chapter 144, Marks and Brands, “Each person who owns cattle, hogs, sheep or goats shall record that person’s earmarks, brands, tattoos and electronic devices with the county clerk of the county in which the animals are located.”

Horse brands must also be registered.

For more information on brands, including how to read or design a brand, please visit and

Registering Your Brand
In Texas, brands are registered at the county level. There is no statewide registry. Please contact your County Clerk Office for more information.

TSCRA does keep a digital database of current brands at for Texas livestock producers to see if a brand is registered in a certain county and to learn about the brand registration process.

Brands must be registered in the county or counties in which you operate. Every 10 years, Texas requires that brands be re-registered.

Brands must be registered in person, unless another method to submit the brand registration form has been approved by your county clerk. An application is available at, but this form must be taken to the appropriate county clerk’s office.

“Why Should I Brand My Cattle” is from the March 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.