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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter

Monday, December 13, 2021

North American Live Cattle Trade Evolving

Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist


Live cattle trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada has changed significantly in recent years.  For the first ten months of the year, total U.S. cattle imports from Mexico are down 23.4 percent year over year, following a decrease of 32.4 percent in October compared to last year.  Cattle imports from Canada are down 9.0 percent for the year-to-date compared to last year but were up 9.2 percent year over year in the month of October.  Total cattle imports are down 18.7 percent year over year through October with the one-month total down 18.5 percent.


Exports of U.S. cattle to Mexico and Canada have increased in the last four years. Cattle exports to Canada, in particular, have expanded significantly, with exports up 70.7 percent year over year for the January to October period.  Thus far in 2021, cattle exports to Canada are 69.4 percent of cattle imports resulting in net cattle imports from Canada down 55.8 percent year over year.  Cattle exports to Mexico remain small relative to the level of cattle imports from Mexico but have also increased in recent years.  Cattle exports to Mexico for the year-to-date are up 215.2 percent and are 7.5 percent of cattle imports from Mexico.  In total, cattle exports so far in 2021 are up 81.2 percent year over year, equal to 31.3 percent of imports, and contributing to a 35.0 percent decrease in net cattle imports for the first ten months of the year.  


Cattle imports from Canada include a mix of cattle for immediate slaughter as well as feeder cattle.  For the year-to-date, total slaughter cattle imports from Canada are down 10.2 percent.  Slaughter cattle imports consist of fed cattle (steers and heifers) that are 43.1 percent of total cattle imports plus slaughter cows and bulls that represent 33.9 percent of total imports.  Imports of feeder cattle from Canada represent 21.6 percent of total cattle imports and are down 3.7 percent thus far in 2021compared to last year.  


Decreased net cattle imports are adding to declining cattle inventories in the U.S. and generally tighter cattle numbers at the end of the year.   Numerous factors, both short term and long term, are affecting the development of live cattle trade in North America.  Structural development in cattle feeding and packing in Canada and Mexico, along with drought conditions, feed supplies and prices and exchange rates all contribute to currently observed live cattle trade.  Some of the current trends may not persist or may change but the overall live cattle market between the U.S., Mexico and Canada will continue to evolve. 



Freeze Branding – The OSU Purebred Beef Way

Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist 

Jeremy Leister, Headquarters Manager, OSU Purebred Beef Cattle Center


To improve efficiency of cow-calf operations, it is imperative to identify individual cattle and maintain accurate production records. One type of permanent identification is branding.  A fire brand can be used but many producers prefer freeze branding. Freeze branding is performed using a coolant and copper or copper-alloy branding irons. Two common freeze branding methods include using either liquid nitrogen or a combination of dry ice and alcohol as a coolant. Most producers get better results with dry ice and alcohol, but locating dry ice can be a challenge.  Liquid nitrogen can be purchased from welding supply stores and artificial insemination companies. 

Freeze branding is relatively stress-free for the animal and causes little or no damage to the hide. Unlike fire brands, freeze brands result in reduced incidences of blotching. On the down-side, freeze branding takes more time, can be more costly and over time brands may fade. Until you are satisfied your procedure is working, ear tags and tattoos are recommended as additional forms of identification.

It is best to freeze brand during the spring or fall months while the hair is growing. As the brand is applied, melanocytes (pigment-producing cells in the skin) are destroyed, and subsequent hair growth is white. The effectiveness of freeze branding is usually better for black and red cattle than for white cattle.  Do not freeze brand when it is rainy, windy or humid.  In these bad weather conditions the irons change temperature rapidly, hindering the branding effects.

At OSU, the Purebred Beef Cattle Center Uses the Following Tools and Procedure to Freeze Brand: 

Materials Needed:

  • Methanol (found at any Oil Supply Company).  At least 15 gallons for a full day. 
  • Dry ice (typically found at Homeland grocery stores).  At least 50 pounds for a full day.
  • Plastic or Styrofoam cooler (large enough for coolant mix and all irons) 
  • Pair of clippers with fine blade or 22 comb premiers (and source of electricity for clippers)
  • Spray bottle or empty dish wash bottle
  • Rice root brush
  • For best results 3-3 ½ inch brands, others are too small or get too large as cattle mature.
  • Squeeze chute to properly contain the animal for safety.
  • Stop watch (or some means of timing) 



  1. First, break the dry ice into smaller cubes, then with the dry ice in a plastic or Styrofoam cooler dump the methanol onto the dry ice covering the numbers or letters on the brand and ice.  For the best results let the irons activate for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  2. Put the animal in a tightly confined squeeze chute for everyone’s safety.
  3. Shave a patch where you intend to brand the animal. Typically, brands are on the shoulder, mid-rib, or hip area. At OSU we utilize the shoulder and hip. The area shaved is usually 12 inches long and 4 inches tall for a 4 number Identification.
  4. Spray the shaved area with methanol and wipe off excess with a rice root brush.  
  5. Place the brands on the skin for 1 minute. It is vital to keep the irons pressed evenly against the skin for the best results.
  6. Brands will need to spend at least 1 – 2 minutes in the coolant between each use. 
  7. Dependent on help you can typically do 2 numbers at a time. More than that can become cumbersome to keep even or level.
  8. Once finished, you will notice the skin will start to peel off within 3-4 weeks and white hair will grow back 6-8 weeks after branding. 


Benefits Observed: Primarily permanent identification means we don’t need to worry about lost ear tags.  Hip brands used are easier to read and identify in larger pastures or during heat detection.  If desired, brands can replace tattoos as permanent identification.


Reference: Oklahoma State University Extension Fact Sheet AFS-3250

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