The Cowboy Symphony
Depending on what region of the country you are from, branding time on the ranch takes on different appearances. One common thread between all regions is the coming together of family, friends and neighbors to get a job done. Different regions do it different ways, out west in the great basin country calves are often head and heeled and held between two horses while the calf is worked, in Texas and most of the great plains, calves are heeled and brought to a line of wrestlers, flankers depending on what state you are in, and held between two ground crew while the roper returns to the pen for another calf. Some ranchers also choose to use a cowboys nightmare known as a calf table.
Branding is a time-honored tradition in the ranching world. Each ranch has their own individual combination of letters, characters, and numbers that make a symbol unique to the individual ranch. These brands are more than a mark of ownership, to many of us, they are a mark of a legacy, a symbol of quality and of pride that has been passed onto us from a generation before. We as ranchers are very proud of the brands we own, and it is our job to ensure the beef wearing those irons are of the very best quality we can produce. On branding day this pride is witnessed by bystanders who might not have ever seen what is taking place.
A good branding crew operates like a fine symphony, complete with its own kind of music. The owner of the cattle, or a person appointed by them, is the symphony director. It is the job of this director to ensure the branding runs smoothly, and the job is completed in a timely and safe manner. Each job on the crew is earned by those who have paid their dues in the branding corral before. There is a certain etiquette, or code among cowboys if you will, in the branding corral. Chief among these are certain unwritten rules that are passed from one generation to another. For those new to the branding corral I will try to explain them the best that I can.
Jobs such as branding, castrating, vaccinating, sorting and roping are assigned by the owner, or the person they have put in charge. These jobs are usually assigned to people who have the most experience and have paid their dues to the ranch. First rule is to never assume you will be given one of these jobs. When the cattle are penned, tie your horse to the fence and plan on being the ground crew until you have been told otherwise. If you are tasked with one of these jobs, treat the calves like they are your own and do the very best job that you can. Next if you are asked to rope, you will need to know a different set of rules. The biggest of these is to never ever bring a high hocked calf through the line, it is dangerous and you as a roper are responsible for the safety of the ground crew and the cattle you are dragging. If you high hock one, either shake the loop off, or step off your horse and take the rope off. Do not expect the ground crew to take it off for you. There is only one reason to ever get your horse out of a walk, and that is to knock a calf you have roped to the ground if they are fighting the rope, once they are down, slow down and walk through the line. If all the wrestlers are occupied while you have a calf roped, it is ok to wait if you have two feet, not a single leg.
At the end of the day branding day is a day of work, but it is also a celebration marking the end of calving season and the start of grazing season. It’s a day that ends with a great meal and maybe a few drinks with friends when the work is all done. Remember it is a privilege to be asked to a branding and a sign of respect to be given a job at one. Do your best work and keep your neighbor’s safety in mind while you do it. That’s all for this time, God bless and keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire.
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