According to the report, in 2016, most of the cattle branding was located on the butt of the animal; the hide and leather industry’s preferred location for branding. “The positive findings in the recent Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) report are a testament to the U.S. cattle industry’s concerted efforts to improve producer value and returns to all sectors of the beef industry,” said Stephen Sothmann, President, USHSLA. “The data reveals a major shift in the U.S. beef herd as U.S. cattle producers have become increasingly aware that their branding decisions can have a major impact on the overall economic value of the animal”, he added.

According to the BQA report, 74.3% of cattle had no brand, meaning a marked improvement from the 55.2% in 2011 and compared with the 55% of non-branded cattle back in 1991, when the first report was issued. Also, the number of cattle with multiple brands is reported to have fallen from 9.9% in 2011 to 1.6% in 2016. The number of hides with “side brands” (located on the side, shoulder or rib cage area of the animal) decreased from nearly 14% in 1991 to 6% in 2016. Side brands often pose challenges to tanners, as their location reduces the available portion of the hide that can be used to produce leather.

The difference in brand locations affects the overall economic value of the animal. No brands on the hide will garner the highest price per head while, on average, butt brands are US$1-2 per piece lower, and side branded hides can be range from US$10-12 lower. The BQA report, which captures the lost value of branding practices by the U.S. cattle industry, estimates that producers lost nearly US$1 dollar per head in 2016 as a result of branding practices, however, due to increased awareness by cattle producers, the value lost is reported to have shrunk from US$2.43 per head since the first BQA report in 1991.

The U.S. hide and leather industry exports approximately 95% of all hides that are produced in any given year. In 2016, this represented a total market value of over US$2 billion, with China being the largest buyer; importing nearly 60% of all hides produced. 

In an age where animal welfare is becoming more of a focus, not only for the lobby groups and the NGO’s but also among consumers, especially of a younger generation where they are shown distressing images via social media or online, it is time the practice of hot or freeze branding to identify cattle on the farm is stopped. Read more on the issue here.