It’s that time of year again here on the ranch, two months of new calves, some sleepless nights, a few lessons of Mommy 101 with maternally challenged bovine, have all come down to this day. That’s right, it’s branding time. The time of year that cowboys and cowgirls get as giddy as children on Christmas as they jingle in the ponies before the sun peeks over the horizon. Some say that it’s an outdated tradition that ranchers cling to out of stubborn pride, but for those of us who still like to do things with a little tradition, it’s more than just a day of working calves. Branding day is a celebration, a party of sorts, where we gather with our friends and neighbors in gratefulness that another calf crop is here on the ground.
This year looks a little different in the branding corral. The fear of a virus means there may be a few things we should be mindful of. I decided that it might be easiest if I put together a guide to help us all with our branding tasks.
When you show up to help the neighbor brand this year, your attire should be all about function over fashion. Now I know some of you, myself included, have got to punch out in those brand new stovepipe boots, 12-inch brimmed hat held on with a ratchet strap so it doesn’t fly off in the wind while you ride in on a wide-eyed half broke colt who thinks cows eat horsemeat for breakfast, but this year you might need a new wardrobe. For instance, rubber chore boots, ground length slicker, OB gloves, ski goggles, and the air filter you just changed from your wife’s car bungee corded around your nose and ears are perfectly acceptable.
Next, instead of dragging calves to the fire with that new poly rope you’ve been hiding from your wife in the tack room for the last three weeks, think about using one braided from yellow caution tape. Not only will the bright yellow color make you highly visible, the sound of the wind whipping it on your horse’s rump with ensure that he helps all the ground crew keep an appropriate social distance. To top it off when you are all done roping for the day you can simply throw the tape in the burn barrel with the used net wrap.
If you are the ground crew where that social distancing is hard, keep a can of Lysol in your pocket. When the cowboy surgeon comes to gather oysters for the local fire department’s calf fry, you can be sure they are well disinfected. Of course you might want to be careful not to spray the man with the knife while he is watching, for obvious reasons of course.
Finally when the work is all done and you all head off for a bite to eat that the cooks have been laboring over all morning, wash your hands like you just cut up a batch of jalapeños and you have an itch under your eye.
Well I hope that this helps for all of you dear readers out there. Hopefully you got a good laugh out of this and are able to enjoy branding with your crew in the safest way possible this year. Whether you use a table, or drag them to the fire, practice good habits that ensure we keep producing the best beef in the world. Until next time thank God for what he has blessed you with and keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire. ❖
Meinzer is a fourth-generation rancher raised on the southeastern plains of Colorado. He and his family live and ranch in Oshkosh, Neb.
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