Feeding the branding crew | TheFencePost.com

Feeding the branding crew

Story & Photos by Kyleen Hafferkamp
Cody, Neb.

All week there was a plan. They were going to brand a small bunch of calves with homemade donuts and coffee afterwards as a “thank you” to the 20 or so members of the branding crew.

It rained, causing a two-hour delay, but then the branding commenced. That meant the “thank you” treat would end up being at noon … lunch time. Living 60 miles from town makes it hard to just “run in” for something extra to feed a very hungry crew. Luckily, Angel Davis can think on her feet. With some combined groceries like extra eggs and fruit from neighboring kitchens, a brunch meal was crafted: scrambled eggs, doughnuts, muffins, fruit, coffee cake, hot chocolate and coffee. It was much appreciated by the chilled branding crew as they came in from the damp weather.

This is nothing out of the norm for branding cooks in the Sandhills. When postponements occur for whatever reason, the freezer can be a rancher’s wife’s best friend!

We always hear about the action in the branding pen; plenty of photos are captured each year from the hard day’s work. This can be a favorite time of year for a lot of cowboys and cowgirls. Being able to work with the neighbors and share a common bond in a ranching tradition. What happens when all the work is done and the calves are branded? Who has planned and prepared for that big meal that awaits a hungry branding crew, sometimes over 60 in number?

It begins every year for most ranchers, by choosing a date that is open as far as the other neighbors’ brandings also being scheduled. The calendar fills up pretty fast for the month. Hoping the weather is cooperative for that date, ranchers decide for a morning or afternoon branding. Good to go, right? Think that’s the end of the planning? Maybe on the “when and where” side of things, but what about the meal? How many people are you going to feed? What would be good for a menu? This is when a lot of good ranching cooks drag out their “branding diary.”

“I write down everything each year.” Angel Davis explains, “A detailed grocery list and how many men, women and children we fed, even down to the cooking times and quantity of the food.” This way she is prepared for the next year. Many women in the area also do this as it makes for a little easier planning Especially if you repeat the same menu or alternate menus from year to year, alleviating some stress and guesswork.

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When helping one woman in the kitchen at her family’s branding, she was unsure about the temperature to have the roaster for the meatloaf. She checked her “diary.” “I put here … start at 350 degrees for one hour (I think)’ well that isn’t much help, is it?” she laughed. At least she was detailed the year before to provide some guidance for the meal this year.

This tradition of a big meal after a long morning or afternoon in the branding pen has been going on for generations. Years ago, the women clothed in dresses and long stockings and made so much more from scratch without the convenience foods branding cooks have available today. Angel Davis is proud to say that the tradition of a dozen or so homemade pies her Grandmother Barnes started over 60 years ago continues on as the chosen dessert for the ranch’s main branding. The branding meal is quite an occasion each year, both then and now.

Many of the neighboring wives of the men in the branding pen help as much as they can in the kitchen. Mixing salads, making sure all the food is set up on time, serving the men and women as they come in from the corral; and of course doing the dreaded dishes and cleanup after a long day of cooking.

“It’s a great way to get the neighbors together,” Stacey Adamson explains. “I work in town and don’t get to see everyone all the time. I love the way that branding meals give me a chance to visit with everyone.”

We are all very appreciative of the hard work that is done in the branding pen(s) each year, and are grateful for neighbors willing to help. The next time you see a photo or read a story about the hard work being done in the branding pen, remember the hard working cooks in the kitchen. The amazing spread of branding food doesn’t magically prepare itself so in giving glory at the end of a productive branding day, the cooks deserve some of that glory, too!