Alpha Angle Branding System

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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: Alpha Angle Patent Button

arabian horse freeze brand

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.

blm horse freeze brand
Photo provided courtesy of BLM.

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.

Researching Your Horses Brand

Did you buy a BLM mustang or burro but didn’t get paperwork? Once you can get a clear look at the brand, the BLM is happy to help you get more information. First, you’ll want to see if you can make out any of the symbols on the brand. Try sketching them out on a piece of paper. If they are not very legible due to  a long winter coat, try shaving the area to get a clearer view. This chart explains the numbering system:

Alpha Angle Interpretation of BLM Brands

Do you have a branded BLM animal and want to learn more about where he or she came from? The BLM is generally happy to help provide basic information like year of birth, gather date and HMA if known. The BLM information desk can be reached via email at

Having trouble interpreting your horses brand? Try our brand translator here:

April Lee

As a former TIP Trainer I trained and placed over 100 animals for the BLM. I've been a horse owner since 1997 and particularly love gentling mustangs. I currently live in Topanga, CA and own one mustang mare, Malibu, from Granite Range.

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