Evaluation of non-invasive bioforensic techniques for determining the age of hot-iron brand burn scars in cattle. Academic Article uri icon


  • Hot-iron branding is a traditional form of permanent cattle identification in the United States. There is a need for science-based determination of cattle brand age. Near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) has been used to obtain information about animal tissues and healing processes. Height-width allometry and NIRS were applied to hot-iron cattle brand scars to determine if either or both of these methods can be used to non-invasively establish the interval sincethe application of hot-iron cattle brands. Length and width of a brand routinely applied to calves (~30-60 d old) were established and then the same measurements were recorded on 378 calfhood branded cattle of known age ranging from 0.5 to > 6.5 yr-of-age. Brand width and height increased over the original measurements by > 100% between calfhood application and 2.5 yr-of-age (P < 0.001). Brand size did not change dramatically between 2.5 and > 6.5 yr, however, both width and height were (P < 0.05) greater at maturity than at weaning. Near infrared spectra were collected from a) branded skin b) non-clipped (hair), non-branded skin, and c) hair clipped, non-branded skin on Bos taurus cross calves. Individual trial calibrations yielded high R 2 and low SE of calibration values as well as similar cross validation performance (P < 0.001). Numerically lower but still strong performance (P < 0.001) resulted from combined data set calibrations. Cross-trial prediction of brand age was unsuccessful. One single year calibration underpredicted (P < 0.001) brand age of an independent validation set by 2.83 d, and another single year calibration underpredicted (P < 0.001) the same validation set by 9.91 d. When combined, these two datasets resulted in a calibration that overpredicted brand age in the validation set by 6.9 d (P < 0.02). Discriminant analyses for identification of skin surface type yielded success rates of 90% for branded, 99% for non-clipped, non-branded, and 96% for clipped, non-branded (P < 0.01). Discriminant analyses were also performed on samples grouped into a) less than 33 d, b) 141-153 d, and c) 169 d categories. All group membership identifications were successful at greater than 90% (P < 0.01). Preliminary results indicate that brand size could be used to indicate brand age and that NIRS can predict brand age as well as discriminate between broad brand age groups in cattle. More work will need to be done before these techniques can be used in real-world forensic applications.

published proceedings

  • Transl Anim Sci

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Tolleson, D. R., & Schafer, D. W.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Tolleson, Douglas R||Schafer, David W

publication date

  • July 2021