Branding Day on the Withers
Colorado Springs, Colo.
In the Colorado cattle ranching business, this is the time of year most cowboys love. It’s time for the “Spring Works” in cowboy parlance. The Withers Ranch sets far out in the Colorado short grass prairie and looks much like it did a hundred years ago. Today is branding day, and the cowboys ride out early, gathering the cows from the big pastures and moving them into the pens to prepare for the day’s work.
Daryl Waite, manager of the Withers Ranch, is a traditionalist when it comes to the cowboy trade. Today’s cattle business is a tough way to make a living and Waite works hard to make a profit for his owners and keep up the traditional cowboy lifestyle for his family and himself. Waite gives credit to the ranch owners for being “the best owners anyone could ever ask to work for.” Today they are branding about 250 head, and typical of many isolated operations, friends and families from around the area show up to help with the gather and the work in the pen. Today, the calves will be branded, inoculated, de-horned and doctored, if needed, and the bull calves will be castrated.
The work starts with stripping the calves from the mama cows and moving the mamas outside the pen just long enough to do the work. The ropers on horseback heel the calves and drag them to the branding fire while the ground team pins them down long enough to complete their various tasks. With several people each doing a different job it seldom takes more than a minute before the calf is released to find her mama. The ropers change off with the ground team periodically, giving everyone a chance to rope and brand.
Daryl Waite, his wife Tina, daughter Jessica with sons Chance and Caleb are part and parcel of the success of the Withers operation. They all work together on whatever needs to be done on the operation, moving cows and branding is second nature to the family. The day starts early on the Withers, Daryl and a few others, camp out at the pens so they can start the fire and get the biscuits going before the sun comes up. When the coals are ready, the food is put in the Dutch Ovens, then covered in coals and left to cook. By sunup the cowboys are ready to ride out in search of cows.
Tina Waite, as well as local cowboy Larry Don Meier, hang back to take care of the chuckwagon duties and set-up the pens for the work ahead. The Waite chuckwagon is an authentic Northwestern wagon, and equipped for the range just like the wagons of the 19th century. The menu today is beef loin, biscuits, black-eyed peas with okra and peach cobbler. It’s not hard to see (or smell) why Larry Don, a neighboring rancher, volunteered to help cook today.
After the final calf is branded, the dust settled and the last of the smoke from the burning hair drifts away, the tired and hungry cowboys (and cowgirls) grab a tin plate and cup and line up for the feast. As luck would have it this day, your reporter just happened to be (a complete coincidence) the first in line at the chuckwagon ” well, almost the first, Larry Don was already there.
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