Va. Cattlemen Learn About Freeze Branding

7/26/2014 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent

BLACKSBURG, Va. — According to a survey at the end of the July 15 New River Valley Field Day at Virginia Tech’s Kentland Farm, most of the 50 cattlemen in attendance said they learned the most from a freeze branding demonstration during the event.

The field day included refresher discussions on using livestock handling facilities, ultrasound pregnancy checks, a fetus sexing demonstration, EPDs and bull selection, and replacement heifer selection.

The pasture walk and weed identification portion of the event was rained out.

Most of those attending the event were able to either earn certification or recertification in the Beef Quality Assurance, or BQA, Program through participation in the livestock handling part of the workshop, according to Scott McElfresh, Pulaski County Extension agent.

Proponents of BQA think the program helps to guarantee quality beef products. The program puts an emphasis on good production practices and humane handling of livestock, with the end goal of providing customer assurance.

Extension agents and staff at Kentland Farm were able to use the facilities at the beef barn to conduct their demonstrations on freeze branding. Freeze branding is not new to Virginia cattlemen; they are reminded of it when bulls are sold after going through the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement, or BCIA, bull test program. Each animal has a freeze brand in the shape of the state of Virginia, with BCIA in the center.

The farmers in attendance learned more about this branding method, which is less painful than hot branding and is less likely to become infected. Keith Dickerson, member of the Kentland Farm staff, presented the demonstration and gave the farmers an opportunity to try the branding method themselves.

In freeze branding, the irons are chilled to a very cold temperature — usually using dry ice, as they did at the field day — and pressed onto the flank of the animal. While there is some pain and the hair receives a freeze burn, it does not damage the animal or its hide. The hair grows back white and in the shape of the brand.

McElfresh said cattle hides are discounted if they have hot brands burned into them.

The field day also included a demonstration of pregnancy testing using sonograms rather than the traditional method of reaching into a cow’s womb with a gloved hand and feeling for the embryo. It is more accurate, too, according to McElfresh. He said this kind of pregnancy check provides earlier information and can tell a producer if the fetus is normal, as well as determining the sex of the calf. He noted it is helpful on farms where brood stock is raised.

This was McElfresh’s last event with Virginia Cooperative Extension as he and his wife have accepted positions with an out-of-state Angus farm and are moving immediately to their new duties.

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