Ranchers urged to take branding precautions to limit spread of COVID-19
These suggestions are intended to give ideas of how to limit the spread of COVID-19 while still getting the work done.
Consider staying home if, in the last 14 days, you have been sick, have been around someone who was sick, have been to an area with a confirmed COVID-19 case, or have traveled outside of the area.
Consider staying home if you are elderly or have health issues. Also consider leaving children at home.
Make sure those preparing food wear gloves, are not sick, and have not potentially been exposed. Have servers make plates up to limit how much each individual touches and to help limit the amount of time in line. Eat outdoors while practicing social distancing.
Consider ways to limit the size of the branding crew to decrease each person’s exposure (Nordfork, calf table, etc.)
Limit who you invite from affected areas or anyone living out of the area including family members. This is not the year to have your daughter’s friend from the city out to experience a branding.
Consider not inviting someone who is not taking COVID-19 precautions seriously because they have a greater likelihood of contracting and spreading the disease.
Practice social distancing by avoiding close contact: maintain a 6-foot distance and avoid handshakes, high fives, hugging, etc.
Consider wearing a respiratory mask while attending.
Many ranchers in rural America spend the first few months of the new year fairly isolated while they help bring a new crop of calves into the world.
After those first few cold, wintery months are over, temperatures warm up in April, spring grasses start peaking through the soil, and ranchers start thinking about spring brandings and the opportunity to socialize with family, friends and neighbors, while branding that new crop of calves.
This year may be different for many ranching families. “As the U.S. continues to limit the spread of COVID-19 by closing offices, promoting social distancing and working from home, agriculture does not stop. The work must go on. Although calves must be branded, not taking precautions can mean the difference between life and death for some loved ones,” according to University of Nebraska Extension Specialist Jack Arterburn.
“Although similar in nature to the common flu, COVID-19 is more contagious and lethal. A cough or sneeze from an infected person aerosolizes the virus which can remain airborne for several hours, affecting individuals as they unknowingly pass through the cloud of droplets. The virus can be transmitted by touching infected surfaces and then touching your face, particularly your eyes, mouth and nose. COVID-19 is also more virulent than the common flu, meaning the slightest exposure to the virus could be enough to infect you. Infected individuals may unknowingly spread the virus once infected, even before symptoms appear or with mild symptoms,” he said.
Because of COVID-19, brandings may not be as traditional this year as usual. States like Nebraska and Wyoming are issuing recommendations for ranchers on how to limit COVID’s spread during spring brandings. The Wyoming Stock Growers issued a statement reminding ranchers that the traditional event will represent one of the highest COVID-19 risks to many ranching families, who have been fairly isolated since the outbreak started.
In Nebraska, the Panhandle Public Health District enlisted the help of local ranchers to develop suggestions for brandings, in an attempt to limit the spread of this disease that is especially threatening those who are elderly, children, individuals with a compromised immune system, and individuals with heart and lung issues, according to Arterburn.
“These suggestions are intended to give ranchers ideas of how to limit the spread of COVID-19, while still getting the work done,” Arterburn said. While the recommendations generated a wide range of positive and negative responses on social media, most ranchers realize the risk brandings hold for those who attend. As one respondent said, “Who is going to take care of your cows when you are sick in the hospital or dead?”
ESSENTIAL CREW ONLY
“What we are trying to promote through these recommendations is essential crew,” Arterburn said. “When you look at branding, you can usually get a large crew together and get a lot done in a couple of hours, but this year, if you limit it to essential crew, it might take you a lot longer — maybe twice as long as it normally does. What we are trying to do is suggest ways to limit how many people are exposed,” he said.
Those people who have been sick or are from outside the area should stay home this year. “If you are not feeling well in any way, whether it is severe or minor, take that into consideration and stay home,” Arterburn said.
Even though it may be difficult, hand washing is a must. If hand washing isn’t a possibility, avoid touching your face, mouth or nose. Consider wearing gloves, and a bandana or face mask. “It isn’t 100 percent foolproof, but it is another barrier,” Arterburn said. Use hand sanitizing wipes to wipe off equipment like ear taggers, vaccine guns, and other supplies and equipment that may be handled by multiple people.
Use a Nordfork to hold the calf’s head while it is worked by the crew, consider roping and dragging calves, or use a calf table. “Although many people don’t consider it a popular option, the calf table is another way to limit the size of the crew. However, it does put people in closer proximity to one another while they are working the calves,” Arterburn said.
Other suggestions made by ranchers were working calves in smaller groups, or working some ahead of time to reduce the number that need to be worked during the branding.
What about the meal?
Traditionally, branding dinner is a spread of foods that makes the mouth water thinking about it, but this year may be different. Social distancing feels strange, and carrying on a conversation standing 6 feet apart can be a challenge, Arterburn said, but having the meal outside can allow people to spread out more. “The meal can be a potential spot where people could become infected because you are handling the food with your hands and then putting that food in your mouth and potentially ingesting the virus,” he said.
“I would recommend making sure that the people handling the food preparation are 100 percent healthy and have no chance of being infected with the virus,” he said. “They should consider wearing a mask, so they are not breathing on the food, or even prepare a plate or sack lunch that they can just hand to someone. It will decrease the amount of time people are in line, and it eliminates everyone handling serving utensils, like spoons and tongs, and condiments.” ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.