Branding a month early this year because Walker, our bull, walks through fences to get to the cows. Which brings calves early. Causing branding to be early March, rather than mid April. Before pulling every dollar out of a blade of grass the first ranchers here may have even branded in May. But over the last 50 years, as far back as anyone out here remembers, branding happens in April. Another change.
As the generation before us, we use a branding table. Calves can be a couple hundred pounds for it. Working bigger calf on the table can be unmanageable. While calves too young or small can get overly stressed, even hurt. Two-three months old and 200-250 pounds is optimal for our branding.
Part of our process when handling calves is to give them Bose to lessen the chance of white muscle disease, Vibrio to fight diarrhea, Copper, and 8-Way, to prevent Blackleg, Malignant Edema, and Redwater which can come from the common bacteria in warm soil. And years ago they use to give growth hormones.
Until the birth of our sons, and then me learning to help with branding, I did not know growth hormones were normally given to calves. After participating in my first branding I asked why we were injecting implants behind the calves ears and essentially into my food supply.
Companies that sold the growth hormones to my husband marketed them saying the cost of the implants and the extra time to give them would be recouped in added weight gain on the calves.
I did not want to eat even a trace of growth hormones, marriage and pregnancy was working well on its own for me. I did not want my new sons to either. Figured other moms didn't want their children to eat them either. So out here we quickly stopped using implants. And our calves still weigh in the 750- 850 pounds range at weaning. Little change.
We don't give antibiotics as a regular practice out here either unless a calf is so sick it will not survive without them. This year (knock on wood) we have not had to give any antibiotics, or drench. The scours that did show cleared up on their own after a few days. This year it is a 100 percent live calf crop. All of them eating grass with their mommies out there in the field. A nice change.
In ranching changes come slow. The phrase, "If it ain't broke don't fix it." is basic philosophy. What has been working, and working well, is hard to give up. But when you can see a shift toward a healthy, clean supply of locally grown food you think hard how you might be part of that shift. Just like "climate change", as much as some want to deny it, we are part of that shift too,
Changes will come to future cattle operations. Maybe one day we wont need to brand. Save that stress from the calf, and the rancher. But until animals can identify themselves, find their way home after wondering through fences, and control their own hormonal urges we will brand with one eye on the future and one eye on the red hot iron.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.