Alberta vet calls for reduction in livestock branding

An Alberta veterinarian is calling for a reduction in the branding of livestock, arguing it causes short and long term pain, but one industry advocate says it should be a producer’s choice because it’s the best way to identify ownership.

“There are instances where some producers do it because it’s tradition,” Roy Lewis told The Homestretch.

“As farming and ranching practices have changed, they may be able to reduce, eliminate or minimize in some situations.”

Lewis has been a large-animal vet for more than three decades.

He recently wrote an opinion piece for a farming publication making his case titled ‘Is there really any need to brand cattle anymore?’

Lewis says there are sound reasons to, if not eliminate the practice, at least reduce it significantly.

“I am not a researcher but if we just extrapolate when we get burned, there is pain initially and then as it heals, there is some pain long term. A lot of producers are now giving pain killers with branding, the ones that are still doing it,” he said.

“The stress from branding, any time you’ve got pain and you’ve got animals close together, there is potential to get respiratory disease so that is why we are trying to minimize stress.”

Roy Lewis has been a large-animal vet for about 30 years in Alberta. He’s calling for a reduction in the practice of branding livestock. (Submitted by Roy Lewis)

The general manager of Calgary-based Livestock Identification Services (LIS) says, it’s a decision best left to producers.

“It’s everyone’s own opinion or decision to brand or not. It’s a decision the producer has to make on whether to identify his livestock so he can prove ownership. It’s an individual choice,” Shawn McLean told CBC News.

“It’s an easy and the most effective way for a producer to see from a distance, that is my animal. If it gets out, we can find the owner. A brand is proof of ownership, unless there is better proof, like a bill of sale or documentation.”

McLean says about 40 to 45 per cent of livestock LIS inspects have been branded and those numbers have been fairly consistent over the years.

“Last year we had about 500 stray cattle and if they are branded, it is much, much easier to get back to their owner,” he said.

“Brands are a marketing tool as well. Purebred guys use it to identify their bulls for breeding stock so people can see the brand.”

Meanwhile, Lewis acknowledges that currently there is no perfect alternative to branding, but he’s hoping technology will play a part in the future.

“Other options we have are the old dangle tags, radio-frequency identification tags,” Lewis said.

“Other species use microchips, implanted under the skin, although in the cattle industry we don’t want that chip getting into the food chain. So we have a few more problems in the cattle industry that we have to address to come up with a bullet-proof, lifelong, identification system.”

McLean says the tags don’t always help get an animal back to its owner because there are issues of confidentiality.

Lewis says while there are situations where branding is necessary, he’s hoping that will be less the case in the future.

“I think we will get to point where we find lost cattle with microchips read from a long ways away. It is coming, we just have to get it to a commercially acceptable level and it has to be bullet-proof and reliable.”

An Alberta veterinarian is raising questions about whether ranchers should be branding cattle. In a piece for Alberta Farmer Express, Roy Lewis argues branding may no longer be necessary, with changes in the industry and advances in technology. The piece has people in the industry talking, and Roy Lewis joins us on the phone to discuss the issue. 7:47

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