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Montana Livestock Branding ‘Moo’-ves Online

Montana upgraded livestock brand re-recording process online after decades of gathering the records in paper form.

by / January 26, 2012

Montana has finally put a little red meat into its old-time process of recording livestock branding.

The state just wrapped up a once-per-decade process that requires branding information for livestock to be re-recorded. For the first time, that process was made available online. The yearlong registration concluded at the end of 2011.

Brands  — or symbols emblazoned on certain areas of an animal’s body — are required for livestock to help prevent loss or theft, and can act as a return address if one of the livestock is somehow separated from its owner. Throughout the state of Montana, more than 55,000 active brands exist, according to the Livestock Department.

Livestock owners must submit the image of their brand and the required fee to the state, but only once every 10 years are they required to update their brand’s information for the state government’s recordkeeping.

Through the new online service,, livestock owners were able to submit the required information online instead of mailing in paper forms or bringing necessary paperwork to the branding office in Helena.

The Montana Department of Livestock upgraded its back-end system for storing livestock brand records. Image courtesy of the Montana Livestock Department.

Out With the Old

How the re-recording information was being received wasn’t the only outdated process being practiced at the Livestock Department. The way the branding records were being stored was also obsolete, the department said.

In past years, after the Livestock Department would receive paper forms from livestock owners, it would store the branding records in a disk operating system built in 1982 that functioned as a repository, said Christian Mackay, executive director of the Livestock Department.

In 2010, the Montana Livestock Department retired its disk operating system for storing livestock brand records. The equipment had been in use since 1982. Image courtesy of the Montana Livestock Department.

“It did what it did very well. But you could not parcel out the data from it,” Mackay said. “It was very difficult to see, for example, how many people owned brands in a certain county.”

The repository was eventually retired in 2010, and now branding records are stored in a newer database that the state is working to make accessible online for the public, Mackay said.

The online re-recording Web service was developed through a public-private alliance that included the Livestock Department, the state Department of Administration’s State Information Technology Services Division and Montana Interactive — a subsidiary of e-government services provider NIC.

The Future

The next brand re-recording period will take place in 2021. What will the registration process for livestock brands look like in 10 years?

John Grainger, the Livestock Department’s chief of brands enforcement, said he and other officials hope the service will expand to include features like email notifications and the capability for livestock owners to update their address and other information through the site.

“At this point, really, who knows?” Grainger said. “The sky is kind of the limit.”

He also said he hopes the 2021 re-recording period will pull a higher percentage of livestock owners online. For 2011, 60 percent of livestock owners who re-recorded brands did so through the online service — the other 40 percent did so manually by submitting paper forms.


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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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