Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

Ranchers say they’re waiting months for brand registrations

PIERRE, S.D. – Some South Dakota ranchers say they’re waiting more than six months to get a livestock brand registered with the state board, while the wait is about a week in neighboring North Dakota and Nebraska.

Brands are the symbols on hot irons used for marking livestock and identifying ownership.

Rancher Tim Allen received his first licensed brand in South Dakota 24 years ago. He said ranchers are frustrated about the wait times.

“I’ve seen it, in my own case, take up to six months to get a brand,” Allen said. “And even longer for trying to get brands for my kids. And nobody can understand why.”

One reason is the volume of symbols currently in the system, according to Scott Vance, president of the South Dakota Brand Board.

There are over 25,000 brands registered in South Dakota, and when someone requests a new one, the staff of the Brand Board has to make sure the new brand design doesn’t duplicate or look too much like any existing brand.

The staff has two ways to do that, according to Vance.

“You either flip through the brand book or use the website,” Vance said. “They have their list of conflicting symbols, but it’s manual. You have to go through every brand.”

The state’s Brand Board website has a searchable catalog of all the brands in the state.

All brand, no cattle

You don’t need to be a rancher, or own livestock, to get a brand in South Dakota.

Rancher Tim Allen said that should change.

“You have to own a car to get a license plate or registration, but for brands, you don’t have to have animals,” Allen said.

There are good reasons some people without cattle own a brand, according to Gary Cammack, a rancher and state legislator from Union Center.

“If somebody has their great-grandfather’s brands that are not active in the cattle business, it’s difficult to tell them they can’t have one,” Cammack said. “In fact, my cousins have my grandfather’s brand and they’re not currently in the cattle business, but I don’t regret the fact that they own it.”

Allen acknowledges that. But he said relinquishing unused brands could lower the number of brands in the system and speed up the review of brand requests.

“Really if you don’t have an animal, you should have to relinquish your brand to somebody that does need it,” Allen said. “Or, the state could give that family some kind of historical recognition.”

Calls for an update

Timber Lake rancher John Maciejewski said the Brand Board needs support. It currently has six employees.

“That Brand Board down there in Pierre is a small office,” Maciejewski said. “They don’t have a lot of people working there. I think that their workload is pretty darn high.”

Maciejewski does not think easing that workload would require hiring more staff. He wants to see if a piece of software could be written or purchased to speed up the process.

“Our brand is an S-K-Y on the right rib,” Maciejewski said. “They should be able to start looking by three-letter brands starting with an S.”

Scott Vance, president of the brand board, said software that would increase productivity is something the board is open to, and it’s a matter of finding the right program.

Wait times to register a brand are about seven to 10 days in neighboring Nebraska, according to Mista White with the Nebraska Brand Committee. She said there are 33,000 registered brands in that state.

That office started using new software in 2017, but White said the wait times have always been about one week.

“It was still a week to 10 days,” White said. “If we get an application today, we work on it today. We could even have it back on that same day.”

White said the software does speed up the search for conflicting brands.

And the situation is similar in North Dakota, according to that state’s Chief Brand Inspector Corby Ward, where there are about 24,000 registered brands.

“It takes about seven to 10 days with a staff of two,” Ward said.

Policy change suggested

Cammack supports relaxing the conflicting symbol standards to speed up approvals of brand requests.

“That would open up literally thousands of brands,” Cammack said. “I believe, for instance, if there’s a quarter-circle, right now, they’re concerned about that being able to be modified to a zero, or something like that, and there are some real questions about how valid that concern is.”

Cammack’s concern about modification refers to someone buying a brand that too closely matches another brand, and the problems that can stem from there – everything from cattle thievery to confusion at a sale barn.

Vance would not confirm or deny that the board is considering loosening the standards.

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