Life on the ranch is cyclical. In the fall, we wean and ship. In the winter (and throughout the year at this point), we feed. In the spring, we calve. And, in the early summer, we brand.
With the current climate/weather/lack of rain, our branding days have decreased drastically. We only have about a quarter of the typical amount of calves to brand this year. So, we accomplished it all in one Friday and Saturday.
A branding goes a little something like this:
First, we gather a lot of help. Whether it's neighbors, family, friends or at times those looking to experience life on the ranch for a day, we get the crew established a few weeks out. This time we had about twenty people total (that includes those of us just watching)! About a week out, whoever is cooking plans the breakfast and lunch. This year, I had Friday to plan for, and we had breakfast biscuits around 5:30 am and then Italian meatballs, pasta, salad, bread and blueberry cheesecake for lunch. In that same week, work is done here to get the cattle moved from their pastures to land closer to the pens to make gathering on the day-of a bit easier.
On the day-of, the help gathers early to have breakfast and saddle the horses (before or right at sunrise). Then, the crew leaves on horseback to begin gathering the cows and calves and moving them toward the pens. Once gathered, the calves are separated from their mamas and the branding supplies are readied. As the branding irons heat up, two people mount their horses and take their turn as the "draggers."
Their job is to rope and drag the calves to the "flankers" who get the calf on the ground and ready to brand.
Once on the ground, the calves are branded, ear marked, given vaccinations, and cut (if they are bull calves and we don't want to keep them for bulls).
Done. One calf down, and the process is repeated as the crew takes turns with different jobs until the job is complete!
Often, the cattle are not close enough together to brand all in one set of pens, so the gear is loaded up after one set is complete, and the process begins again at a different location.
We also typically have some spectators:
These men and women are the real deal. They don't wear hats and spurs as fashion accessories. Their gear serves a purpose. They work hard, day in and out, to not only provide for their families, but for a nation dependent upon agriculture.
I'm proud to be a part of that. And, the little guys await their turn to carry on the tradition...
For us, it isn't a weekend affair. It is our life.
And, I love it.