The Ultimate Guide to Cattle Brand Trademarks: Part 2

Part 2: "Trust your neighbors, but brand your cattle."
cattle brand etsy shirt pinterest
The iconography of cattle brand designs has exploded across online marketplaces like Etsy and Pinterest.

This blog is part 2 of 3. Click here to read Part 1.


Now that you know the history and purpose behind cattle brands, let’s dive in a little deeper and talk about what how a cattle brand is created and the current state of registered cattle trademarks.

What’s in a brand?

Cattle brand designs must adhere to a series of shapes and letters that look a bit like hieroglyphics, likely due to its Egyptian roots. Coincidentally, these symbols are called bovine pyroglyphics.

Brands are based on four elements, either alone or in combination:

  1. Letters of the alphabet
  2. Numbers
  3. Lines and circles
  4. Pictures

Letters and numbers are described as regular, tilting, winged, lazy, crazy, running, and more. (See full design guide here:

For more information on the syntax used in brand design (and stunning historical examples), this October 2020 article from Grapheine is a must-read.

Branding the farm, not just the cattle

Many livestock companies choose to register the logo of the company as a design mark but only used one element of the logo on their cattle.

For example, Cotter Key Farms in Texas has a registered trademark with the USPTO for a logo of an outline of Texas and a cotter key, but only the cotter key appears on their cattle.

cotter key farms
Full logo registered as a trademark. [source]
cottery key bull brand
Portion of the logo used as a brand. [source]

Heartbrand Ranch does the same thing— their full logo is a registered trademark but their cattle are marked with just the heart element.

HeartBrand logo 1
HeartBrand’s logo
heartbrand cattle brand heart
Heart element used as a brand [source]

How many cattle brands are registered trademarks?

Surprisingly, very few. Even in the high-stakes (steaks?) market of purebred cattle, a search of current US trademarks brought back less than 100 results.

However, larger commercial operations like Tejon Ranch and Express Ranches have amassed a significant trademark portfolio of their iconic cross-and-curve mark.

tejon trademark symbol
A sample of Tejan Ranch’s trademarks from the USPTO trademark registry.

“Trust your neighbors, but brand your cattle.”

Here is a current, real-life example of how registering a trademark could potentially protect you against a competitor using a similar logo or name.

The Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company ( is a Texas ranch spanning 165,000 acres and was founded in 1883. According to their website, the ranch has a signature horse breed named “Pitchfork Gray,” a gray horse with a black mane and tail.

Pitchfork Ranch ( in Wyoming covered 250,000 acres at its peak and was founded in 1878. Its founder, Otto Frank, focused on “building the Pitchfork brand” through photography and journaling.

It’s hard not to notice the similarities not only in their name, but also their visual branding. Their logos are below.

Now take a look at the products below, sold by Pitchfork Ranch, bearing the same pitchfork imagery (even in matching red) as Pitchfork Land & Cattle Co.

As you can see, this is an example where it might be in a farm’s best interest to have intellectual property rights for their design.

(Disclaimer: I do not know the status of these farms or if they have communicated about the similarities of their brand. This is for illustrative purposes only.)

Coming soon: PART 3

This blog is part 2 of 3. Click here to read Part 1.

Part 3 will cover:

  • Eligibility of cattle brands as registered trademarks
  • Benefits of trademark registration
  • How to register a cattle brand as a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office

If you haven’t already, subscribe to the newsletter to be updated when Part 3 of IP Illustrated’s “Ultimate Guide to Cattle Brands” is published.

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