Branding the old fashioned way requires heat
May, and although the plastic temperature gauge nailed to the root cellar only reads 38 degrees at noon, spring is here. The cattle trucks are rolling into the yard with this year’s crop of steers and pairs, and we’ve finished branding.
Cow/calf pairs unloaded from the trucks can be heard bawling from the corrals all the way past the barn and into the house loud and constant.
Later today the cowboys will trail the pairs out to the fields and everything will calm down, but for now truckloads of mother cows are calling to find their calves and every confused calf is calling back.
Corral noise like today’s happens at branding time too. Branding makes it easier to claim and separate out our cows from a neighbor’s or from these shipped in cattle. Recent news reports Carson Valley and part of Tahoe have a joint new lime green ‘Can Do’ brand.
Some time, thought and possibly creativity was put into that little ditty. Sounds a little perky for this area though. Makes images of eager young leathernecks willing to take an enemy hill come to mind, not cattle grazing on pastures, snow powdered mountains, slow running creeks, blue sky reflecting water, or open acres of sagebrush. Is it meant to represent limiting growth while encouraging economic expansion? We’ll have to see.
Cattle branding has two major schools of thought on how to place your brand. Some cattlemen will only brand with an open fire, ropes, and horses. Others use a swinging calf table.
With an open fire you gather your cattle to where you have your basic campfire heating branding irons. A ground crew at the fire works the irons, cuts the steers, and gives shots. While a mounted horse crew rope calves from the bunched herd dragging them to the fire.
Calves do not willingly go to either the castrating calf table or the open fire so each technique has its perils.
Open fire brandings can have mixed up ropers, flighty horses, and loose calves around sharp knives, pointy needles and fire. At the calf table a calf can fight its way off if not caught properly or not fit at all, injuries can occur.
But with a branding table you only need a ground crew, no horse crew.
Gathering the herd can be done on foot, with an open Jeep or with any like kind machine. Separating cows from calves with corral gates is done on foot. Same with moving cows down the alleyway to a squeeze chute where a raised step runs along side the alleyway allowing the branding crew to reach down over wooden panels to give cows their necessary vaccinations.
The separated calves are herded into a smaller alleyway leading to the branding table.
The calves are pushed to the calf table that catches their head and squeezes their front shoulders then swings up flat, hip level to the castrator, giving clear access to the calf’s underside.
A pusher, as we call the person shoving the backside of a calf toward the calf table, can get kicked enough to leave a scar. But there are no horses to mess with, no ropes dangling and a propane tank usually supplies the fire for the branding iron.
Both methods have their critics and their fans. Both produce the same result, branded cattle, a claim of ownership.
— Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.