Riding for Your Brand, or Why Edna Englert Knows Your Cows as Well as You Do

A few years ago, mum and I spent a Saturday manning the phones and the computer and the assisting and the kennels and the barns and cleaning the large-animal exam room (why is it that when you really want a quiet day at the vet clinic, that never happens?), Edna Englert, the local brand inspector, came in to read some brands for Dad. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen Edna, but fortunately, Edna has a long memory and she could remember: my high-school graduation.

Oy vey. Thanks for the reminder that I’m no spring chicken. And that I still help my dad out at the vet clinic, a job I last held when I was 16.

Edna has been a brand inspector for the Carbon County area of Montana for roundabout 30 years. Her husband, Jim, inspected brands for year or so, but then Edna was convinced to take up the paperwork by Garvin Swaggert. She’s been reading brands and signing brand inspections for area ranchers and horse owners ever since.

I swear that when the temperature drops, most ranches seem to be sponsored by Carhartt. Edna is no exception, but she somehow manages to rock it a bit more stylishly than anyone else. That hat likely has something to do with it.

While her favorite part of her job is seeing and speaking with ranch people, Edna is also kind of crazy for brands. Brands have two purposes: to prove ownership and to deter theft. “Put a good brand on the horse, it will be recognized. A clear, visible brand is a ‘return to sender’ mark on a lost cow or horse,” says fellow Montana State District Brand Inspector Pete Olsen. Edna agrees with him. A good brand is one that is easy to read and to identify, and a cow or horse’s rib or hip is Edna’s preferred locations for brands. “Shoulder brands smear or smudge too easily,” she says, “making them more difficult to read.” Fortunately, Edna can read a brand on nearly any type of animal.

When I asked Edna what has changed over her years of reading brands, she says that “Ranchers are more watchful, riding out amongst their herds on a regular basis in order to keep a close watch on their cattle.” But ranchers aren’t alone. Brand inspectors keep a watchful eye and ear out as well. They receive up-to-date reports on missing or stolen cattle, and they keep in touch with fellow brand inspectors.

If there is a downside to being a brand inspector, it’s likely all of the paperwork that comes with the job. Edna is an old hand at triplicate forms, however, and she has decided that she’ll keep reading brands until she turns 80, and then she’ll turn the paperwork over to someone else. Until that fated day, however, Edna has your brand as well as your back.

About that Paperwork…

For those of you wondering just what a brand inspector is, don’t worry–I had the same question. A brand inspector helps to protect the livestock of ranchers, cattle owners, and horse owners from loss by theft, illegal butchering, or if the livestock strays from its owner’s pasture, grazing ground, or barn.

Even if your horse does not have a brand, most Western states still require a brand inspection to cross county and state lines. There are three different types of brand inspections: trip permits (from point A to point B, such as a sale, public auction, or out-of-state destinations); annual permits allow travel only within the state for an entire year; and permanent/lifetime brand inspections allow travel within the US as long as ownership of the horse or cow does not change. For example, let’s say that you have an annual brand inspection for your horse but need to cross into a neighboring state for a cutting futurity. In this instance, you will need to get a trip permit from your local brand inspector. However, if you see a lot of interstate travel in your near future, it would be easier and more economical to get a permanent or lifetime brand inspection. Remember, states may have different laws regarding travel and brand inspections, so check before you load your horse in the trailer and head on down the road. You will be held liable if you are found to be without a proper brand inspection. A couple of helpful things to remember:

  • Brand inspections are not health certificates, and health certificates are not brand inspections!
  • Even if your horse is “slick” and does not have a brand, you will still need a brand inspection if you live in a brand state or are traveling to or through a brand state.
  • When buying a horse, check that the bill of sale identifies the horse and depicts any brands or marks on that horse. Verify that these same marks also appear on the horse’s registration papers. Don’t lose the bill of sale or the registration papers as you’ll need them when applying for a brand inspection.

To find your local district brand inspector, check with your state’s Department of Livestock, Department of Agriculture, or the Stockgrowers Association. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Edna, thanks for your good work, your fantastic knowledge of ranches and their livestock, and of people. Bridger Vet and Carbon County as a whole wouldn’t be the same without you!

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