Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ranch Traditions: Branding Part 1

My favorite part of any cattle working day
is roundup.

It is still crisp and cool.

The prairie is bathed in gold

that outlines 

the prairie grass and the backs of cows.

The prairie stretches out huge

and endless

a golden ocean


we move under the big sky.

Branding day begins that way.

It is a moment of beauty before the real work begins.

When roundup is complete and the cow-calf pairs are gathered,

it starts with sorting the cows from the calves.

The cows go out and the calves stay in.
It becomes especially noisy because the cows are calling to their calves.

They know one another's voice.

It is fascinating how they find one another afterwards if you really think about it.

But then, I guess I could find my kid in a crowd.

Branding season is one of those traditions

that unites a community.

"Neighboring" is another way of saying that you "trade help" with your neighbor.

And that's what we do on this day.

Even the kids "neighbor" because it's fun and that is how they learn.

One of the benefits of neighboring, just like any other situation of working together,
is that your neighbors have strengths to offer.

Our family is not a roping family, but we are sure glad that our neighbors are.

We mostly hold our calves steady with a roper and a "nordfork",
but we also have teams that wrestle.

{I do not know why it is called a "nordfork".}

The fork helps when you don't have lots "wrestlers" and when your crew is getting older.
Plus it is a good solid and safe way to hold a calf
so that the process of branding, vaccinating and castrating is quick.
That way calves are right back on their feet again
and having some of mama's milk.

That's my son operating the fork above.

Once the calf is held steady
it's time to "work" each one.

Because I am sharing this publicly,
I will address the most common questions about branding.

Why do you brand?
Branding marks the calf for the owner to find lost calves and to prevent stealing.
Calves can easily crawl through fences that will deter most cattle,
which is one of the ways they get lost.
They also get lost when you move a group of pairs from one place to another
and a calf escapes before "pairing up", which means finding it's mother, 
and returns to where it was moved from.
Cattle also get lost when storms come through, either summer or winter,
which cause them to drift and wander with the wind outside of fences,
sometimes many miles from home
and mixed up with other herds.
Brands help to identify your cattle from other ranchers' cattle 
when these kinds of things happen
And, YES, people do steal cattle.
Tags are another way of marking calves, but the tag is marked with a number to identify the mother,
much like bracelets in the hospital mark mother and baby.
Tags also come off easily.  A thief can just cut the tag out of the ear.
A brand is permanent.

Does branding hurt the calf?
Well, yes.  They obviously don't like it.  They bawl.
But cattle hide is different than skin.
It is tougher.  Much thicker.  
It allows an animal to be outside in cold up to 40 below zero in a 3-day blizzard
and survive with no damage to the hide what-so-ever.
A person would die.  Freeze to death.
Or serious permanent damage would happen.  Frostbite.  Loss of fingers and toes.
Cattle hide is tough and thick.
Again it is different than skin and responds similar but still differently.
Cattle can also be outside in 120 degree heat and not get burned.
Branding should not go too deep.
The hide will peel a while later much like a sunburn.
We take care to do it quick and clean.
A cattleman doing a good job with the iron will take care to get it right.
Otherwise it could get infection and cause the calf to get sick.

It is just meant to scar enough to damage the hair follicles so hair doesn't grow back.
The calves are running and bucking immediately afterwards.
So does it hurt?  Yes and no.
Momentarily yes.  Permanently no.
They are up and at it right away.
Seriously, calves are doing much better after being branded
than I am after spending a day in the sun without sunscreen.

Making sure they have healthy bellies is much more serious.
Lungs and digestion are two things to keep eagle eyes on.
We check our baby calves regularly to see who needs attention.

In our family, one brother brands and 
the other brother cuts.
(That's my guy with the knife in his teeth)

More on this in Part 2.


  1. Loved seeing your wide open country. Nice facts on branding, too. I think it's real important that 'people' understand cattle are stolen much more commonly than one may think even in these 'modern' days!

    1. Thanks, Leslie. I do love the wide open country and raising my family here. Yes cattle are stolen more often than we would think as well as hay and equipment.

  2. It's fascinating to see all the action, your pictures bring it to life. Love the concept of "Neighbouring" something you just don't see a lot of in this world.
    Enjoyed this glimpse into your world

    1. Thanks for the visit, Bren. I'll be sharing more about neighbors in the upcoming posts!


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