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Last Updated: Wednesday October 28 2009 15:30 GMT

Row over pony branding heats up

Row over branding Exmoor ponies

People trying to care for ponies living on Exmoor in Devon and Somerset are arguing about the best way to do it.

Lots of groups try to help the horses, but they can't agree on the best way to make sure they look after them.

Farmers say they need to identify the animals, so use very hot pieces of metal to burn permanent numbers onto the horses, called branding.

But other groups think branding is painful and should be stopped, and want other methods of identification used.

They say now horses can be microchipped in the same way vets work with pets, branding is no longer required.

Paul King from People 4 Ponies said: "It is just barbaric in this day and age for human beings to be doing such terrible things."

Ponies living on Exmoor

Hot branding is banned in the UK for cows and sheep, but is still allowed for ponies.

However others say microchips aren't as good as branding because you need to be really close to an animal to scan the chip, and the horses don't stand still for long enough when people go near them.

Although the horses are wild and live on the moor, farmers look after them to help them when they're sick.

They also make sure that the correct numbers of male and female ponies live in the wild so the herds continue to grow in a controlled way.

Freeze branding

Farmers say the branded numbers help them locate a sick or injured animal if a member of the public spots one. At the moment microchipping technology isn't good enough to identify an animal from a distance.

Hot branding isn't the only way to mark animals - some people think another method called freeze branding may be better because it causes less physical pain.

Freeze branding takes longer than hot branding, and for wild animals any contact with people can be distressing, so that may not be a perfect solution either.