The snowy remnants of winter are retreating up the mountain side hastily while lush greenery transforms the landscape below. It’s a rancher's indicator that the frozen, lonesome chores of calving season are done, and a long list of summertime work is on the way. Branding season encompasses more than a singular task, it's a day of community, hard work, and the kickoff of summer celebration, but it ain’t all fun and games.
The functional purpose of branding is to legally mark, ensure the soundness of, and immunize for potential threats or parasites to calves before they are sent to open range, and, for an unlucky few, turn from bull to steer. After a long winter, ranchers look forward to shaking off the cabin fever and getting social again. Friends and neighbors of all ages come out of the woodwork to help each other the old fashioned way- getting their hands dirty and getting the job done. Hell, who knows, the hard work of branding might be the most fun you get to have all year!
On the morning of a branding, the crew will meet up at the branding pen with their horses and pickup trucks loaded with all necessities for the operation. Some saddle up and head out to round up cow/calf pairs while the others get the irons hot, vaccinations ready and the base operation set up for branding. After the pairs have been rounded up, the mother cows are separated and ropers ride into the calf pen to throw their first heal shots (the functional application of roping). The calves, now approximately 250 lbs and 3-4 months old, are skidded from the pen one at a time and wrestled into position by the ground crew. It can be quite a rodeo until the two or three calf wrestlers get the calf pinned down and positioned correctly. Wrestlers continue to hold the calf in a stationary position so the brand and vaccinations go off without a hitch, leaving a clean, identifiable brand and healthy immunized calf trotting back to its mother.
As with any ranch job, branding starts early and finishes when the job is done, and done well. Regardless of how big or small the bunch of calves is, the task won't be over until all of them are tended to and returned to the herd. At the end of the day when the pairs have been turned out on to green grass and the trucks loaded back up, the crew heads home for the almighty cookout. Nothing tastes better than an ice cold beer after roping, wrestling and running hot irons all day, but when combined with a hot meal shared with friends, family and neighbors, it doesn't get any more fulfilling. For the help, there’s more to gain from giving than taking, so everyone makes a collective effort to ensure each others’ health, well-being, and the community only grows stronger because of it.
Remember to Barrel Up for your family, your neighbors and community, and then, Barrel On!