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National Western loses piece of history with relocation of brand inspections

The Stock Show is in its 109th year and there is a lot of history at the National Western complex in Denver, Colo. Most of that history is out in the yards where it all started, back when Denver was second only to Chicago as a livestock distribution center. This year some of that history will be gone. For the first time in almost one hundred years, the Colorado Brand Inspectors will not have their offices in the Livestock Exchange Building. They still exist, but are now in a new building in Broomfield.

Brand inspection has been in Colorado for 110 years and inspection is extremely important to large and small ranchers throughout the state. Inspections are so important that they are completely funded by the ranchers themselves.

Brand Commissioner Chris Whitney explains, “We are totally paid for by the livestock industry which believes in what we do so they pay for it. The state doesn’t pay for it. We don’t get a nickel from the state. It is totally funded by the fees and assessments of us by the industry.”



“The brand board has about seventy men and women all over the state of Colorado in ten different supervisory districts and our job simply stated is to protect the livestock industry by protecting it from loss by theft, strayings or illegal butcherings. It is an easy mission to state but a little bit harder to do. Last year in doing our job, brand inspectors traveled about 1.1 million miles looking at about 4.3 million head of livestock,” Whitney said. “The way the law reads, we look at livestock whenever there is a change of ownership or whenever livestock travels over seventy-five miles within the state of Colorado or whenever livestock travels out of state.”

As if cattle, horses and sheep were not enough responsibility, the brand inspectors also look at alternative livestock such as domestic elk and fallow deer. They manage and inspect about sixty-six alternative livestock facilities in the state. In addition, they license public livestock markets and inspect cattle in certified feedlots.



A livestock brand is a mark of ownership and the registered personal property of the owner. Colorado does not have a mandatory brand law which says that you have to brand your livestock. But if you want to get them back when they have strayed, you had better brand your livestock. The way the brand inspectors put it is, “a brand is an animal’s best return address.”

To know the history of cattle branding in Colorado and the process of registering a new brand, there is no better person to talk to than Rick Wahlert.

Wahlert, like most of the brand inspectors, has a ranching background. After spending many years as a field inspector, he is now the technology development coordinator, and is tasked with developing computerized systems for automating much of the huge amount of paperwork generated by field inspectors.

“Brand inspection has been going on since about 1860. The cattle barons or owners hired the inspectors at that time. In 1867, the owners formed the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. In 1890, the brand inspectors became part of the state and in April 1903, we became an official state agency,” Wahlert said. “The oldest brand that we have on record is from 1899. Before that, they recorded the brand with the secretary of state and before that with the county that you lived in, so you could have multiple brands around the state. We still have some duplicates in different counties, but not many.”

Wahlert continued, “We are the only state left, that when you record a brand, you can put it anywhere on the animal. These brands you can put on horses or cattle, but we have separate ones for sheep. Any other state from basically Colorado west, they record by location and by species.”

That statement might not sound all that important until you consider Wahlert’s example: “In Nebraska, for example, you could record a single brand on the left shoulder, left riblet and left hips, to three different people and right shoulder, right riblet, and right hip to three other different people just for cattle, then six more times for horses.”

That confusing scenario cannot happen in Colorado.

“While you can brand anywhere on the animal, we do not duplicate brands. In the early days up until about 1950 or ‘60, brands were duplicated because one brand was in Southeast Colorado and one was in Southwest Colorado. We do have five ‘O’s’ and five ‘C’s’ currently recorded because they have kept up the assessment,” Wahlert said.

The first thing visible upon entering the old office was a giant filing system that looked like an old rolodex. It was anchored to the floor and about three feet high and twelve feet long, and it contained the registration cards for the 35,000 current brands in Colorado. Some of the cards are current from 1899 to the present.

Beside the 35,000 current brands, the office also has written records of every brand registered in Colorado from 1899 to the present.

There are sixty to eighty applications for new brands received each month. When a new brand is requested, the brand board has a complete research staff to determine if the brand is already in use, and if it is, whether or not the owner is current with their assessment. They also have to check the surrounding counties to determine if there are brands that are similar to the one being requested.

The brand board and Wahlert have looked at computer research, but because of the graphic nature of brands and their similarities, there is no current software that can do the job, so all the research still has to be done by hand.

Brand research, like many things in the livestock industry, is one of those jobs where the old way is the best way. The building may be new, but the brand inspectors will keep doing their job just as it has been done in Colorado for one hundred years. Still, it is always sad to see history lost. ❖


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