“And of course there’s more modern ways of doing it nowadays but this is the way Texas was brought about. You know, brand your cattle to make sure it’s yours.”
Old Harris County records show the names of early residents written in careful penmanship alongside hand-drawn cattle brands, the marks used to identify an animal’s owner.
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart says the county still has records of livestock brands dating back to the mid-1800’s.
“The only way of knowing if the brand had already been registered is to actually turn the pages and go back and look at the previous ones. And as you can see here, you would actually mark where you would put the brand on the animal, and then the person would hand write the brand that they’re going to use.”
Nearly 150 years later the process of registering those brands continues into the digital age. Stanart they still get a few hundred registrations every year. These days cattle owners fill out a form but they still hand-draw their brand. There are letter and number brands, symbols including the familiar rocking brand, and there’s one brand that simply a question mark.
“It’s your family thing. It’s what your grandfather, your great-grandfather — that’s the family brand. And so I’m saying that’s probably why a lot of people will continue to re-register every ten years, which is the requirement of the law. During that approximately six-month period to re-register, if you don’t, someone else can come and register that brand. And then you’d lose rights to it.”
And while many ranchers have moved away from the old hot iron branding to something known as freeze branding, Stanart says others have adopted new methods of identifying livestock.
“The hot metal iron is used less frequently, because you’ve got technology now. You’ve got little clips with what they call radio frequency IDs they can put on animals. You can put electronic things underneath the skin, a little microchip.”
Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that in 2007, Harris County had just under 35,ooo head of cattle. That’s down from over 50,000 a decade earlier.