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Animals 2018, 8(8), 137;

Branding Practices on Four Dairies in Kantale, Sri Lanka

Center for Animal Welfare, Department of Animal Science, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya 20400, Sri Lanka
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 12 May 2018 / Revised: 29 June 2018 / Accepted: 4 August 2018 / Published: 7 August 2018
(This article belongs to the Section Farm Animals)
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Simple Summary

Branding cattle with hot irons is a painful procedure, inflicting severe burns that take weeks to heal. Although Sri Lanka prohibits hot-iron branding, the practice is still common in some areas of the country but has not been described. We observed branding practices on four smallholder farms and identified welfare concerns and challenges impeding adoption of alternative methods of identification, such as ear tags. Farmers used multiple irons to mark their initials and, in some cases, their address, with the largest brands extending across the ribs and hip. Farmers did not consider ear tags a viable alternative to hot-iron branding because of issues with security and tag retention. Hot-iron branding raises serious animal welfare concerns and efforts to introduce more welfare-friendly alternatives are needed.


Hot-iron branding is illegal in Sri Lanka, but is still commonly used to identify dairy herds in extensive farming systems, which are primarily located in the country’s Dry Zone. Despite the negative welfare implications of this practice, there is no written documentation of branding in this region. We observed branding on four smallholder farms in Kantale, Eastern Province to understand the welfare implications associated with the procedure and challenges limiting the uptake of more welfare-friendly alternatives, such as ear tagging. Areas of welfare concern included the duration of restraint, the size and location of the brand, and the absence of pain relief. Animals were restrained with rope for an average duration of 12 min (range 8–17 min). Farmers used multiple running irons to mark their initials and, in some cases, their address, with the largest brands extending across the ribs and hip. Three farmers applied coconut or neem oil topically to the brand after performing the procedure. No analgesics were given before or after branding. Farmers reported that poor ear tag retention in extensive systems and theft were the main factors impeding the uptake of alternative forms of identification. Branding is also practiced as part of traditional medicine in some cases. Given the clear evidence that hot-iron branding impairs animal welfare and there is no evidence that this can be improved, alternative identification methods are needed, both in Sri Lanka, as well as in other countries engaging in this practice. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal welfare; cattle; hot-iron branding; ear tags; smallholders animal welfare; cattle; hot-iron branding; ear tags; smallholders

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Adcock, S.J.J.; Tucker, C.B.; Weerasinghe, G.; Rajapaksha, E. Branding Practices on Four Dairies in Kantale, Sri Lanka. Animals 2018, 8, 137.

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