Brands and Baseball
This is arguably my favorite time of the year. We have just gone through the craziness that is calving season, the sleepless nights, the short tempers from lack of sleep and a barn that seemed to never be without a project. After that wildly busy season we celebrate by gathering with neighbors to brand calves. Starting about mid April, every weekend until the first of June is filled with brandings. See like baseball, branding season is a tradition here in the heartland, and trading help with neighbors is something those big city folks just don’t understand.
Like a good team manager of a baseball club, the owner of the ranch organizes his branding like it is game seven of the World Series. He puts people in the positions that will do the best for the speed and safety of the entire branding crew. Every job that is done is important, it is the effort of the entire crew that makes the day successful. Brandings are a team sport, if one person tried to do it all, he wouldn’t get done branding calves until the snow started to fly again next winter. Good brandings require all the people there to be willing to do the job that they are asked to do.
Here in rural America brandings are a way for high school kids to make a few extra dollars if they don’t mind getting their hands dirty. I have seen the star basketball player wrestle calves with the kid who plays in the band. In school they might not be on the same court, but out on the ranch they are the starting lineup on branding day. Everybody gets dirty, everyone works together, and everyone shares a joke or a laugh about one thing or another. Brandings are special. They put people together that might not have ever met. They force people to work together for a common purpose.
The later in branding season it gets, the more likely you are to see kids with manure-stained jeans don their cleats after the branding and head to town for baseball practice. On more than one occasion there have been coaches pull up to the ballpark with the trailer still hooked and the horses still saddled. Spurs inside the dugout are something that only rural Americans know about. The same kids and coaches that spent the morning wrestling and branding calves, will spend the afternoon batting balls and throwing strikes.
For me, the late spring is best because it combines the two best things, baseball and branding. When it comes to raising kids, they are the two best things to teach a work ethic and reliance on your teammates. While there may be other ways to make a living, there is no better way to make a life than bringing up kids on the ranch and on the ball diamond.
The next time you pass through a small town and see a horse trailer parked at the ball field, smile and wave because those kids are living their best life. That’s all for this time. Be thankful for good neighbors and support the kids who come to the ball field from the pasture. Keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire and God bless.
Meinzer is a fourth-generation rancher raised on the southeastern plains of Colorado. He and his family live and ranch in Oshkosh, Neb.