Hot branding is the application of a red hot iron to skin and is routinely carried out on some native pony breeds in England and Wales, usually as five month old foals. On the Exmoor pony, up to seven branding marks are made on the shoulder and flank, requiring prolonged forceful restraint and hot irons to be applied separately three times to the same animal. Each brand is held to the skin for up to four seconds. This is extremely stressful and painful for the foals, and no anaesthetic or pain relief is used.
Currently there are no restrictions in place as to who is able to brand these foals, or which foals can be branded. This is unacceptable as under current law the hot branding of equines is only allowed under the Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) Regulations 2007, which allows mutilations to be performed only:
(i) "for the overall welfare of the animal/ in the animal's long term welfare interest"
(ii) it is "an accepted management procedure”.
Research papers have been produced proving the pain caused by hot branding, and there are numerous examples of the long lasting ill effects. Microchipping is a far superior method of identification: the scarring produced from hot brands are unpredictable and often unreadable. It is not an accepted management procedure, being illegal in numerous countries and condemned as cruel by the RSPCA, BEVA, BVA, BHS, World Horse Welfare and the Blue Cross and many other welfare experts.
The prolonged pain and stress caused to domestic foals by hot branding is completely unacceptable, and should be halted immediately.
For some ponies, for example the wild herds of Exmoor ponies grazing out on the moor, there is a welfare benefit to having visual identification. In these cases owners should be able to apply for a derogation allowing hot branding to be performed where they feel it is necessary to the management of their herd and confers a welfare benefit. This should follow the precedent set by the rules surrounding tail docking of working dogs in England and Wales. Stipulations to this should include:
- the owner must have common land or grazing rights with ponies in a true free living situation where they may co-graze with other herds of the same breed
- only breeding females due to return to the moorland should be branded
- only one discrete brand may be applied (an “owner mark”)
- a veterinary surgeon must be in attendance and pain relief must be used.
See this BBC news report showing the multiple hot branding of Exmoor Pony Foals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSqz4LMLtyo
For further reading and in depth information, including statements from BHS, BEVA and photographs see here: http://www.equinetourismcommunity.com/index.php?/topic/647-multiple-hot-branding-of-exmoor-ponies-must-stop/