In recent years, the word “brand” has been adopted by advertising types to describe an identity for your product or company. That ain’t what this is about.
What this is about is a hot iron being applied to a calf in order to mark it with a symbol identifying which ranch it belongs to by burning the ranch symbol into its hide. The device is called a branding iron.
Here in Colorado, a brand has to be registered with the state brand commission. You submit to them what you would like to be your brand and it is approved, or not. The brand I thought I had invented for Cross Creek Ranch turns out to have been registered to Adolph Coors, the beer guy. So we had to modify it in order to get something similar approved.
At a branding, the mother cows are separated from their baby calves, usually when the calves are a couple months old. So calves born in March are usually branded in May. The longer you wait the more the calves weigh and the harder is the job. A 300 lb. calf is easier to handle than a 500 lb. calf. Well, maybe not for me, but for regular cowboys, I suppose. I have heard smaller cowboys complain about calves that are too big.
The separating is usually done by a team of folks helping at the branding. The mother cows are cut from the milling herd and chased out of a corral one or a few at a time. There has to be someone running the gate who can close it quick before any calves get away.
As you can imagine, after the separating, the cows are outside the corral calling to their babies and the calves are bawling for their mamas. Don’t tell the PETA folks. It is not inhumane, it is just the way we do things out West, and have been for a hundred and fifty years or so. For example, our neighbors on the Roberts Ranch are having their 140th annual 4th of July party. I was not invited for the first 120 years, but for the last twenty, I usually attend.
Once the pen is just full of calves, some ropers rope the calves around their legs and drag them to the fire, one or two at a time. For each calf, a couple fellas or even sometimes husky females, wrestle the calf and hold it down on the ground while it is branded, sometimes vaccinated, and, in the case of baby bulls, subjected to a procedure that results in them becoming baby steers.
Despite my reputation as a talented roper, or more likely because of my impressive size and strength, I am always one of the calf wrestlers.
That is fine with me. For biblical reasons, I don’t want to do to the baby bulls what I would not want done unto me.
After the process for each calf is completed, it is reunited with its mother.
P.S. Not every ranch holds to the tradition of ” ropin’ and draggin’ to the fire.” There are some ranchers who try to be more efficient by pushing the calves through a narrow lane of panels to a squeeze chute at the end, which can be turned so the calf is on a table on its side. There are even electric brands or, propane fires to heat traditional branding irons. Now that kind of thing is fine if your helpers are city boys. But if you want to hold on to tradition and practice cowboy skills, you need horses and ropes and ropers and even wrestlers.
P.P.S. I’ve been to many brandings with a dentist/rancher who always gets the job of castrating. Knowing of his vast experience with bulls, I will never go to his dental office. I’d hate to have him get mixed up about the task for the day.