torsdag 17. mars 2011

To brand or not to brand...

Currently there's a huge debate going on in Germany, dividing riders, horse breeders and other horse people. The last couple of years some groups have begun to campaign against the tradition of branding foals. Recently it all came to a boiling point after this poster was published from a German animal protection organization.

The brand is that of the Hannoveraner, one of the most recognized of the brands. The text over the girls head reads "feel like a horse". This poster is part of a larger campaign, another is this one against castration of piglets without anesthesia:

(More posters can be seen here).

The discussion regarding branding can be summed up as follows: the German government (more specifically the Agricultural Department), the national Veterinary Organisation (Bundesverband Praktizierender Tierärzte, BPT) and some/many riders want to ban the practice of branding. Some/many riders, the German federation, horse breeders (at least the ones that make themselves heard) and the breeding associations want to keep it.

There are 4 main points that are being discussed:
1) Most importantly, the pain caused (or supposed pain, to those who defend branding) to the horses
2) How to best identitfy horses
3) Marketing
4) Money

1) It seems strange that holding a scorching hot iron to a horse's skin wouldn't cause massive pain. But that is the argument from the breeders/breeding assoc. "If it hurts so bad, why don't the horses defend themselves, or run away?" Three of the major breeding assoc. (the Hannover, Holstein and Trakhener Assoc.) together with the German federation (FN) have made a film to demonstrate how well the foals tolerate the branding, and are also collecting signatures for a letter to the government to reconsider their position on branding. And indeed, the foals seem remarkably unfazed by it all. But how are they after a few hours, or days? Anyone who have ever burn themselves know that it doesn't start to really hurt before the skin starts reacting to the damage that has been done.

2) The reason this debate started was mainly because we now have an alternative to branding; microchips. Inserted into the neck, it's promoted as a pain-free, surefire way to identify horses. A few years back, I had my previous horse chipped, as did many others, and never heard anybody either complain or tell horror stories of what might go wrong. So I keep being surprised by all the things reported by many Germans to be wrong with microchipping. First of all, supposedly many (I haven't seen any numbers) horses develop abcesses where the chip is inserted, or the chip travels in the body of the horse and ends up somewhere else, causing problems or at least hindering it from being read by a scanner. Second, it not pain-free and third, the chips can only be read by special scanners that are not always at hand and differ from country to country, making it difficult to correctly identify horses that have travelled over borders.

Picure from

3) "Taking the brand away from the horse is like snapping the star off of the Mercedes cars." Sure, it's still a good car, but nobody's going to recognise it as a Mercedes. That's pretty much the argument from the marketing department. And I suspect, the real reason why the breeders are so reluctant to part with the hot iron.

4) Ever since the BPT revealed their support to the ban, it has been said that the ban is just a deal between the government and the vets to earn more money. (A vet has to chip the foal, whereas the branding is done by people from the different breeding assoc.)

My first instinct is to agree with the ban. Why cause unnessesary pain to animals? Even if horses don't experience pain the way humans do (as claimed in the film), I don't believe that it's possible to not experience some degree of pain from branding. These animals feel flies landing on their fur!

But it's interesting that generally speaking, the people most committed to defending the practice are those who have actually seen and experienced it (and also benefit from it for marketing reasons...), and those who despise it are people who usually haven't seen it first hand.

Right now, nobody knows how it'll end, but I have a feeling that the breeders are going to have to live with brand-free horses in the future.

9 kommentarer:

  1. I think you're right and breeders will have to stop branding and learn to love micro chips. My horse had a Dutch warmblood brand and since he was grey it was very hard to see except in the perfect light. I always wondered if that didn't hurt him or cause him to mistrust people when he was younger.

    I see no problem with the micro chips, my dog has one from his breeder. It doesn't seem to bother him at all, he's 9.

  2. Bosco has one brand from the breeder, a number and a microchip, just to be on the safe side :p

    I think the branding of horses is on its way out, but it will probably take some time. Microchip is very useful, the down side is, that you can't "see" if a horse is an DV, hannoveranian, PRE og Lusitano. You will probably be able to tell the difference between a DV and a PRE, but to tell the difference between a DV, hannoveranian or KWPN might not be that easy. But then again, do you really have to?

  3. Ok, so you could probably identify Bosco just from his brands;) But like GHM says, many brands are difficult to see (I guess it depends on how long the branding iron was held on the skin). Fonti is branded as well, but if it didn't say so in his passport I wouldn't have believed it. It's certainly not enough to identify him, and you can't tell he's a Westfaler.

    So it seems that the microchip is a safer solution, and probably the less painful... Which brings me back to my point that the breeders only want the brand for marketing reasons, not because it's "pain-free" or a good way to identify horses.

    I have to admit that I think the brands (that are well done) look kinda cool, but I still think there are to few, if any, good reasons for branding that can justify causing horses pain.

  4. I can't accept that there are problems with microchips, as it has been used extensively now for a long time.
    At least compared to branding.
    I feel (as you) that the defenders of branding want to keep it as a way to market the breed in a visual manner.

  5. I can only just sign your last paragraph, Anne, my thoughts exactly.

  6. Then we all agree at least:)
    Just yesterday I read this in one of Germany's biggest horse magazines: "Millions of horselovers can't understand why such a historically important cultural treasure like the branding of foals should be replaced by a premature and for the horses painful implant like the microchip".
    And they claim that their opponents argue one-sided...

  7. My horse has a freezebrand on his neck which identifies him as a purebred Arabian, contains the year of his birth and his registration number. I always felt that his brand protected him and it sure helped getting him into Germany (with no passport).

    I wonder if freezebranding is more or less painful than hot branding.

    For grey horses like mine it probably was more painful because they have to hold it longer to kill the hair follicles completely whereas with colored horses, they only hold the brand there long enough to damage the hair follicles so they grow back in white. These brands are easily read - mine must be kept shaved in winter to be clearly readable.

    I wonder if lip tattooing happens in Germany. That would seem to me to be the most painful of all. All TB racehorses are tattooed in America. Racing Standardbreds (Traber) are freezemarked.

    Mustangs use the same codes as the Arabians, with symbols indicating which state they are from.

    I feel it's a matter of safety - theives are less likely to take a horse with a unique identifier on his neck.

    The breed brands I see in Germany are a Mercedes star, a matter of pride--do they have to be purebred to get the brand?

  8. Thanks for an interesting comment! Nice to hear how branding is done on non-warmbloods.

    I agree with you that freezebrands are easy to see. We've had a few horses from Eastern Europe or Russia at the stables, and they all had freezebrands.

    I'm pretty sure that Friesians are tattooed, but under the tongue and not the lip.

    The different warmblood breeding registers have slightly different rules as to which horses can be branded. The Hanoverian register requires the foal to have at least 50% Hanoverian breeding, either through one parent or both (ie. if the mare is 100% Hanoverian bred, the stallion (if approved by the H. register) can belong to another breed register altogether).
    The Holsteiner register is much more restrictive, and I've heard that they require both parents to be purebred (with the exception of certain thoroughbreds who are mainly used with Holsteiner mares).

    What I think I forgot in my original post was that all foals have to be chipped. So the brand comes in addition to that - there's no choice between chip and brand, only either both or only chip.

    Just a few days ago the German government decided to allow branding to continue for the time being! To read more, visit

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