When wild horses are gathered by the BLM and processed, they are given a unique brand on the left side of their neck. This brand utilizes the Alpha Angle system developed by Dr. Keith Farrell of Washington State University.
This post is quite lengthy so here are the sections in case you want to skip ahead.
Table of Contents
History of the Alpha Angle Brand
The alpha-angle system for freeze brand identification was developed and patented in the 60’s by Dr. Keith Farrell of Washington State University. This unique idea of livestock identification was adopted by the BLM for identifying America’s Wild Horse and Burros. This method of branding introduced a way for the permanent identification of livestock that isn’t easily alterable because of the unique angle system.
While the BLM has the most wide-spread use of this brand, their use of the idea is not exclusive. The alpha-angle brand has also been utilized for other breeds, most commonly the Arabian. This is an example of an Arabian brand. Note that the leading symbol is different.
Want to read more about it? Download a PDF copy of the original patent:
Application of the BLM Brand
The BLM brand for mustangs and burros is applied on the left side of the neck. Mustangs and burros brought in from the range are assigned a unique brand number.
This ID allows them to be uniquely identified. The first symbol indicates this is a US Government animal. The next two digits are the estimated year of birth. The last six digits is the registration or individual ID number.
When gathered and processed, each horse and burro is branded based on the information present. Double brands and incorrect brands can happen but are not a regular occurrence.
As with any freeze brand, the application process is considered humane. The animal is secured in a holding chute and the left side of its neck is shaved.
The symbols in the branding iron are set by ensuring they match the horse to be identified.
The branding iron is then super-cooled before applying the brand to the neck. The length of time the iron is applied to the neck depends on the color of the horse.
The longer you hold the branding iron against the skin, the less likely it is that hair will grow back. Hold the iron too short and the brand won’t be readable. On most horses, the desired result is to have white hairs grow back. On gray or very light colored horses, the branding iron can be held longer so that no hair grows back.
Freeze branding a horse does not typically cause any bleeding and as such the recovery is uneventful in almost all cases.
Think about having a super cold ice cube applied to your skin for 30-45 seconds. The branded area will swell for a brief period and the branded area will scab up as well. These scabs are allowed to heal naturally and, once gone, the brand is permanent.
Reading A BLM Brand
Each symbol represents a unique number. There are 10 total symbols plus the breed code. For
The easiest way to “read” a BLM brand is to try and copy the symbols down on a piece of paper and then decrypt them. On most
BLM Brands on Light Colored Horses
On a lighter colored horse, the brand can be more difficult to see. There are two different ways that a light colored horse might be branded. If the BLM knows the horse is going to go gray or is a pale color, they can hold the branding iron on the neck longer. Instead of turning white, the hair just doesn’t grow back leaving the skin color underneath showing.
That is really evident on this Palominos brand. Saxon is from the HMA and his brand was held a little longer than it would have been on a bay or sorrel mustang. This makes his brand easier to read against his light coat.
On a gray horse, if the branding iron is not held long enough, the hair will grow back white and not be as visible. This would more commonly happen when a horse is branded at a young age and then later turns gray.
Take a look at this horse. He’s a nice, dark gray now but he will get lighter and lighter as he ages, eventually he should be all white. As he ages, his brand will become less and less visible until it can’t be seen at all.
Brands that Can’t Be Read
Sometimes a horse moves or jumps around in the branding chute and the contact isn’t held long enough for a clear brand to be made. In these cases, some or all of the letters may be illegible. These are a couple of good examples of that. Even shaved, these brands are not legible.
Making A BLM Brand More Legible
If you are having trouble reading your horse or burros BLM brand there are a few steps you can take to help it become legible. Typically, shaving the brand helps the most.
Here is an example of a brand on a bay roan BLM mare. When we bought her, we didn’t know she was a mustang but something about her color seemed off.
We sent the picture off to BLM to see what they thought and they confirmed the thought she was a mustang. They said to shave the brand to make it more clear. Interestingly, her brand raised up when we shaved it. This is the only horse I’ve ever seen this happen to but luckily it did allow us to see her brand!
Here is what it looks like when I run the number through the mustang brand generator.
The brand on the palomino BLM mustang above shows a brand that was held longer so that no hair would grow back. This mare is in her summer coat but there is still enough hair to make the details of the brand characters hard to read.
Here is the same horse (in winter) but with the brand shaved. You can see how shaving has made the characters more easy to read.
BLM Brand on a Curly Horse
Here is a before and after of a BLM Brand on a Curly Mustang. The difference between the two is a winter coat vs. a summer coat. You can definitely see how shaving during winter would have helped the characters become more legible.
The summer coat brand is legible but would be much more clear if it were shaved. There is, however, no need to regularly shave your mustangs brand if you already know what it reads.
Some people will make sure it stays legible as a form of “mustang pride”. The brand can definitely be a conversation starter for those who are unaware that you can adopt a mustang or who are misinformed and believe mustangs are wild, crazy animals that can’t truly be tamed.
Sale Authority Brands
After a horse has been offered for adoption three times, BLM can make them “Sale Authority”. This means that the horses can be offered for purchase instead of adoption.
An application must still be filled out and approved. BLM also limits the number of sale authority animals an individual can purchase in an attempt to assure good homes. When a horse is determined to be sale authority, a big U is added at the end of their brand.
This big U is the easiest way to signify that a horse is sale authority. If still at the corral, this animal is available for purchase and, if you see one out on
Here are a couple examples of sale authority brands.
Hip Brands on BLM Mustangs
Horses that are not adopted or sold are sometimes sent to larger holding facilities by BLM. These facilities are often comprised of extremely large pastures where the mustangs roam together.
To make identification easier at these very large facilities, BLM will prep a horse by branding the horse’s hip with the last four digits of its brand number. This makes the horse easily identifiable from very far away.
Horses are typically hip branded at the adoption facility and are still available for adoption until they ship out. That means, it is possible for horses that have a hip brand to be adopted.
Here is what a hip brand on a mustang looks like. Keep in mind, the horse still has his regular neck brand as well. This is just an extra brand because he had been prepped to go to long term holding.
Some hip brands may have letters and numbers. If you see a hip brand like this the horse *should* be a mare and the hip brand means she was treated with fertility control and released back out on the range at some point.
That is the case with this Devil’s Garden mare. She has both a BLM brand on her neck and a brand reading “LB 34” on her hip indicating she was treated with fertility control at some point.
Double brands aren’t very common but they do happen. Typically a double brand occurs for one of two reasons:
- The horse was branded with the incorrect number so a second brand is added with the correct number.
- The horse moved our jumped during the branding process.
On this BLM mustang the brand wasn’t doubled but we can see a line above the symbols. This is probably the result of the brand being held more firmly and the top part of the branding iron came into contact with the skin.
Showing Off Your BLM Brand
BLM Mustang owners love to show off their horses brands! There are so many different ways to draw attention to it. Here are some BLM mustangs proudly sporting their brands!
BLM Brand Generator
All of the awesome brand graphics in this article were generated with the BLM Brand Generator. With this free online tool, you simply enter your horses year of birth and the last six digits of their brand number and it will create a sharable version of the BLM brand for you.
You can also use this image to proudly have your brand printed on various items.
YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE!
Do you have examples of BLM brands like the ones we’ve shown here? We would love to get an individual gallery going for each section but we need contributors to be able to do that!
If you have a photo you would like to submit email lairicllc at gmail.com. Please give as much information as possible (name, brand number, hma, etc). We will always credit photos to the original submitter unless you specifically request to remain anonymous!