I wrote this post weeks ago and it just sort of sat here. Now that we have moved into haying, breeding, and another season I figured I would share my branding recap. Time just slips away some times it seems.
The branding season is winding down. This season is marked by weekends spent in the dust and dirt, working cows and calves, prepping them for summer pasture. Branding marks the end of the spring calving season and a celebration of the product of careful attention to matings, nutrition thru pregnancy and lactation, and surviving months of stress and sleeplessness. While calving fills my camera lens with images of cute calves, it also means restless nights forcing tired and brace against the cold night air to check the herd in the event one of the cows may have calving troubles, emotional fatigue with the loss and struggle with nature’s unkindness, and planning your life events in less than 4 hours chunks of time less we not be available to the needs of the cows and sheep.
Branding as it is so-called is really the opportunity to carefully examine each calve as they come thru the calf cradle (a small chute that allows the calf to be restrained) or via cowboy or cowgirl restraint. Each calve is given vaccinations to protect it against respiratory bugs and other diseases it may encounter later in its life and the bull calves are castrated. Each calf spends about a minute or less for this entire process to reduce stress to the calves and improve efficiency. Most ranches do at least 100 calves, if not hundreds in a day’s work.
Branding is also a celebration of family, friends, and community. Much like days gone by, branding is done with the help of our neighbors and friends. Many hands make light the work to be done. Neighbors are miles away but in true selflessness they are as available to give a day’s work as a phone call and quick pickup ride down the road. Often more family and friends join for branding day than Thanksgiving or Christmas, and the meals that follow are often as impressive.
There is hierarchy amongst the branding workers, with the job of bringing in the calves and doing the physical restraint job left to the young and fit “whipper-snappers”. The youngsters watch and learn, hoping to gain years and pounds so as to be a calf pusher at the next branding.
Not all calves are branded but for those moving to common pastures or where ownership must be proven a hot iron is applied to the tough haired hide, leaving behind a permanent mark of ownership. The brand itself often represents generations of ownership and legacy. My own registered brand once belonged to my grandfather. The mark of a brand must not be “blotched” or “smeared” as it may become unreadable and be a permanent mark of poor workmanship for the life of the animal. So the “brander” position is reserved for the skilled and experienced. The remaining jobs sort of fall in order with those available but often years of experience absolve one of the more physical jobs, leaving vaccinating, re-tagging, or castrating.
Working calves may well be a necessary task at a ranch, but more so it is that coming together, sharing of food and stories, struggles and drama, and involving the next generation. More than just a “job” to be done it is a reflection of generations of care and concern for the animals and land in our care. Ranchers strive to raise healthier, improved cattle that meet the needs of the consumer.
“This lifestyle isn’t just about the animals. It is about beliefs and values passed down through the generations. Ensuring things are left better for those yet to come. It is about legacy.”