Travels with Charlize-37 The Branding

It’s a culture of community building. There are, no doubt, more efficient ways of handling cows and separating them from their calves.

Don is gruff. His Dad was gruff and I imagine that his grandfather and great-grandfather were cut from the same tough hide.

“We do it the old fashioned way,” he tells me. “Over the years we have made some improvements. The pipe corral segments that fit together work. The important thing is that the neighbors and their hired hands and the all kids like the cowboy stuff. This is their chance.”

At six-thirty that morning we were sitting at the large kitchen table, drinking coffee and solving the world’s problems, as if anyone would listen to two old guys. While thus occupied we were looking out of the south facing wall of windows as truck after truck drove past all hauling goose-neck stock trailers with from two to six horses already saddled inside.

“No rush,” he says. “They’ll have to gather the first group of cows and calves, get them penned and the cows cut out before we get started.”

“I thought I would leave Charlize here this morning,” I offered. “Don’t want her getting underfoot or causing problems.”

Don glanced at me and smiled. We often think along parallel lines and he had, no doubt, been musing about how to approach this subject.

Good idea.”

We drove about five miles out to a corner where three pastures converged. A temporary set of pens and corrals had been set up using panels made from steel pipe. The older gentleman in the pink coat is filling a syringe. The black metal device on legs behind him is a propane fueled stove where the branding irons are made red- hot.



The next photo shows the sorting of the cows from the calves. Those are plastic paddles on the end of wood poles and are used to just touch the calves on the face to force them back from the opening. The other folks in the corral are actually helping to keep the cattle bunched up. They are not just standing around.



Here some calves are being encouraged to not follow the cow just separated from the group.



Here’s the downstream side of the previous photo. The mounted “hands” are ready to rope any calf that “sneaks” through and tries to join the cows. It’s one of the “fun” cowboy parts of the deal.




After the calves are separated the real fun begins; one of the hands ropes a calf by the hind legs then drags it to one of two groups of “catchers”, ready and waiting only ten to twenty yards away. The green painted poles in the photo are set in a “V”-shape to separate the two groups of catchers.



The two groups of catchers separate themselves into teams of two. One of the team grabs the rope pulling the calf by its hind legs as the girl in the orange shirt is demonstrating. The other team member grabs the front legs and they lay the calf on its right side and stretch it out, removing the rope. The smoke is from a calf being branded. As you can see this is a unisex activity and everyone pitches in doing equal work. Many of the girls are as skilled at roping as the men and boys. Without any orders being given the participants rotate so everyone has a chance to do all of the jobs. At least three or four generations of family, friends, neighbors and hired-ranch hands, with their children are all working together and learning a set of skills not as easily mastered as you might suppose. The male calves are efficiently and quickly castrated, all calves are vaccinated with two different vaccines and all are branded before they are released.

Cattle rustling is still a problem for these ranchers and a well-branded animal is the best prevention. Hot branding has proven to be the fastest and most secure method because it is the most durable. There does not seem to be any lasting effects on the animal from the indignity. Most calves were only stretched out for a few minutes. This little guy was just released and is looking for his mama to tell her about all he has endured. He wasn’t crying or in any discernable pain.



When we were about three-fourths through with the first group of two hundred plus calves a group of riders set out to round up and bring in the second group of cows and calves from an adjacent six hundred plus acre pasture. When the last calf of the first group was finished the second group was already being herded towards the pens.

The first calf was branded about eight-thirty that morning. At eleven-thirty that same morning over five hundred and fifty calves were done. At one-o’clock that afternoon all those participating were sitting around card tables on Don and Susie’s lawn waiting for the dinner bell to ring. A few were sipping cold beers but most were drinking soft drinks or iced-tea. All the horses had been cared for and were waiting patiently in their trailers for the ride home. Charlize made the rounds, introducing herself and smelling the wonderful smells of grimy jeans, boots and chaps.

At two-thirty almost everyone was gone, they all had work waiting for them at home. During branding season there are two to four brandings a week scheduled. The ranchers and their help show up and work hard. They are fed well for their hard work but most importantly neighbors and friends help each other to get a job done that is best and most efficiently accomplished by a large group of folks who know what to do and how to do it, the old teaching the young.

Damn few things happen that way in our modern society but the Sandhills ranchers have figured it out and keep it going. I’m sure glad they have!

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