Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Branding 2012

The weather was looking good, and the calves were getting big.  I decided to brand on Saturday May 12.

The first two calls I made were to my son-out-law Phil, and his brother Darin.  These two are top-notch stockmen, and I had depended on their help for years.  We three had made the basis for a Ranch Rodeo team at Wilsall for some 7 years running, and had taken 2nd place in 2008 among 40 of the best hands in the ranch country of Park County.  They were clear, so I made a number of other calls to round out the crew.

I figured that we would need three ropers, a brander, two vaccinators, and six wrestlers.  Phil, Darin, and I could swap off roping/branding, but we would need at least one more good hand to alternate with us.  And it’s always better to have one experienced cattleman to spare for coaching wrestlers and handle contingencies.

In big ranch country there are plenty of neighbors with whom to trade help.  But most of our neighbors now are “gentleman” ranchers, and the rest have quit roping and gone to using a calf table to brand.  I was depending on friends from down-country for help.

Several of the stockmen I called had other commitments, and I was starting to get a little worried about crew.  I had my son Ted for sure, his buddy Shane, my neighbor Brian, and my Nephew Todd.  Along with Phil and Darin and their kids we could get by, but it might be more like work than we would like.

Ted had some friends from Bozeman, however, and they chose that weekend to celebrate Ted’s birthday with a camp-out along the river.  Most of them would be of marginal value, but there were a couple that might be good help.  I scored two other cowmen to help, and we were in business.

Gathering the cows from the pasture is an easy task, but a real adventure for some folks, and there is always too much help for that part.  Robert asked if the cows would cross the bridge alright, and I said “yes – if no one crowds them”.

I was still setting up equipment in the corral when the cows hit the bridge.  I heard more hollering than was useful, and soon saw cattle and horses running across the field the wrong way.  Someone must have crowded them!

I mounted my horse and crossed the bridge while the cows were scattering and joined the effort to gather them again.  I was told that one of the town dogs had been on the bridge when they tried to cross the first time, but that he was now tied safely to a post.

On the second go at the bridge it was a bull that held things up.  He stopped on the bridge and turned back at the herd, bellowing his belligerence.  I pushed through the herd and took the bull into the corral – it wasn’t long before the cows were coming across the bridge.

The cows don’t associate corrals with anything nice, and it took some pushing to get them through the gate.  Then we began sorting the cows away from their calves and pushing them down the alley and up the chute to receive their annual vaccinations for a couple of reproductive diseases, a couple of respiratory diseases, and a couple of intestinal diseases.

By noon we had the cows all worked, and were ready to quench our thirst at the beer keg and have some lunch.  Kathi brought sandwiches down to the corral, and we ate under a clear blue sky.

My grandson Toby and his cousin Justin wanted to do the vaccinating, so I designated their older sisters to monitor.  When the irons were hot I sent in three ropers.

Soon the calves were coming out as fast as I could brand them.  I didn’t have time to look around to appraise the wrestling, but I did notice that Darin’s son Cody and Ted’s girlfriend Julia were doing an excellent job.  My granddaughter Taylor handled her share, as well as some of the Bozeman crowd.  Soon a fourth roper went in.

Each of the ropers was attempting to snare both hind feet.  Unless one foot kicked out of the loop, a single wrestler could hold the front of the calf, with the roper still dallied to the hind feet.

After an hour one of the ropers came out and took over the branding so I could rope.  Again I was so busy I didn’t have time to look around, and the next hour went quickly.  Two hours after we began branding, the last calf was drug to the fire.

The whole event had gone very smoothly, and it was a delightful day - a fun time for everyone. The calves were soon back with their mothers and headed back out to pasture - and we were finished for another year.

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