My iron in the fire
Los Osos, Calif.
One of the rites of passage of a cowboy’s life is the day you get your own brand. I remember the first time I took my iron out of the fire as all work stopped in the corral. I knew then that this town kid with no ranch and little cash had arrived.
I doubt that calf realized the honor being bestowed on it as it became the first to carry my brand. I’d branded cattle before but I was still nervous about putting it on upside down or blotchy so I practiced for a week ahead of time, but branding a corral board is a little different than branding a squirmy calf.
You don’t get to choose your own name in life but you should be able to pick your brand. It will forever be your identity in the cow business and when your cattle hit the auction ring everyone present will see if you’re a good cowman, or a pretender. Everyone always knew I was a gyppo trader because there was always plenty of reading material on my cattle.
I never have writer’s block but I remember having a brain freeze when I tried to come up with my brand. First I tried using my initials L and P. I tried laying the P on its back but that either looked like I was dead or lazy. If I laid the P over on its front it gave the impression I was face down in the dirt drunk and couldn’t stand up for myself. I got so desperate I even considered the well known 2 lazy 2 pee brand but that ruined the whole P concept for me.
I considered using just my initials but as a kid I remember every album you bought had on it in big letters LP. It stood for “long playing” and I didn’t want my identity in the cow business to be that I was a gas bag. So I tried reversing my initials and came up with P and L, which made it sound like all I cared about was getting filthy rich.
We should thank our forefathers for coming up with great ways to enhance our initials. You can make them walk, run, swing, hang, drag, tumble, hook and fork. Still I didn’t want it recorded in brand books that I rocked or rolled. My initials didn’t look good in a box and when I made them tumble it looked like my brand was a crazy LP. Enough people think that already and I don’t need to reinforce the idea.
You can incorporate signs in your brand like a diamond, arrow, or rafter, and I considered using a bar, but bar-Lee sounded like I was a dirt farmer who grew grain and we couldn’t have that. The brand of another writer, Arnold Rojas, was the bar 0 because that’s how he got the money to start.
Then there’s the decision to make on where you want your brand to appear: shoulder, rib or hip. The brand we settled on was only available on the right hip. I’ve heard for years that the optimal location is on the left side, supposedly because that’s the cow’s side most often facing you. I’ve never seen a definitive study on that and I’m sure some university could spend a couple million to find out.
By now you know I’m a world class cheapskate and rather than pay a blacksmith to make my irons I considered making an iron myself out of things I could weld onto a rod, like a spur, bit, or hammer. My wife had an old waffle iron she said I could use but what would that say about me, that I like breakfast?
I also had to consider my neighborhood and the quality of the branding crew I’d be stuck with. So I thought about a brand that would work even if flipped over, like l l or 88. My luck they’d turn it sideways! I consider the circle the perfect brand because no one can mess that up unless they grab the wrong end of the iron. In that case all they’ll get is a brand in the hand.
In the final analysis my wife and I ended up with the perfect brand that tells the story of our life together: it’s just US. ❖