Drowsy Water

Friday, October 16, 2009

FAQ: How do you brand a horse on a Colorado Dude Ranch?



People might think that ranchers are not too quick, seeing as they live in the boonies and all. But that is not true. Not at all. In a lot of ways, ranching is just one giant science experiment. From figuring the best grasses for hay to building their own drainages and roads, ranchers have been doing science experiments for eons.

Being a nerdy scientist myself, this has been a wonderful thing to learn about ranching. This FAQ--How do you brand a horse? -- is a prime example of a rancher science experiment. I'll walk you through the definition and the procedure.

A brand is used to identify the owner of livestock animal and protects against fraud and theft. Freeze branding is how we brand our horses here at Drowsy Water Ranch. Most of our horses have a white symbol or two on their left shoulder. That is a freeze brand. The freeze branding process produces white hair by destroying pigment-forming cells of the hair follicle.

Freeze branding is different than hot iron branding in a few ways. First, like the name implies, freeze branding is achieved by extensive cooling where hot iron branding is achieved by extensive heating. Ranchers freeze brand horses because it is less painful than hot iron branding and because the hide of the horse is so thin that a hot iron brand often injures the horse.

Okay, you nerdy scientist, you want to try to do this at home? While there is really no reason why you can't try this little experiment at home, I have to mention a few things. First, in most states, in order to brand a horse you must have a state registered brand. It is a big no-no to brand a horse with an unregistered brand. Actually, it's usually illegal.

Second, freeze branding is safe, economical, and is relatively painless. It produces lasting results that discourage horse thieves and fraudulent practices. But, if you don't have a brand and a horse to try this on, this doesn't mean you can try to brand your dog, or, worse yet, your little sister.

As the youngest of three kids, I was the subject of countless science experiments. I can tell you, for a fact, that, yes, cat medicine does taste sorta like Pepto-Bismol, and, no, it doesn't actually hurt if the toilet is flushed while your head is inside the bowl. I'm glad that my siblings didn't find out about this one and I don't have a permanent brand anywhere on my body. Please do not try to freeze brand another human being.

Okay, here we go. To do your own freeze brand at home you will need:
  • Branding Iron: Irons made from brass or copper work best because they hold the cold better.
  • Coolant: We use dry ice. It is cheap and readily available. You can also use liquid nitrogen, if you can find it.
  • Container for Coolant: We just use a little lunch-sized cooler. It needs to be big enough to hold the dry ice and enough alcohol to cover the dry ice.
  • Clippers: The branding site is shaved first to get as close to the hair follicle as possible.
  • Bottle with 99% alcohol: Preferably a squirt bottle to clean the brand site. Alcohol also aids in the transfer of cold to the skin. We also use the alcohol in the cooler with the dry ice.
  • Stopwatch: For tracking the time the iron is applied to the skin.
  • Gloves: These are optional (you'll notice Justin doesn't wear them), but probably safest.
  • Handlers: At least three people works best. One holds the horse, one brands, and one times.
Now for the procedure:
  • Restrain horse: Most of our horses can just be put in a halter. Some horses may require a twitch, a chute, or even tranquilizers.
  • Prepare coolant and branding iron: Place dry ice in cooler and cover with water. Insert branding iron to cooler so the brand face is covered. Let sit for around five minutes or until the liquid ceases bubbling.
  • Prepare brand site: Clip a square shape larger than the face of the branding iron on the horses left shoulder. Using a nice square or rectangle clipping site will help with brand alignment.
  • Prepare timer: Holler at the timer person "you ready?"
  • Cover brand site with alcohol: This removes oil from the skin and helps transfer cold from iron to skin.
  • Apply brand: Immediately after alcohol application, apply branding iron to brand site and simultaneously begin timing. Hold the brand on the site for 90 seconds. You may gently rock the branding iron slightly during application but do not wrinkle the skin.

  • Sit back and watch: Now you just get to watch the final product materialize. At first, the site will appear indented. Within a few minutes the site will become slightly swelled. In a month or two, the top layer of skin sheds and white hair starts growing in. After about four months, hair growth is complete and you should see a neat white brand.
Congratulations! You've completed a freeze brand.



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Thursday, January 15, 2009

What we do in the winter Part I: A Drowsy Water Ranch Date


You know you've been livin' in the boonies for a while when you decide you want to go on a date with your husband and you are not talking about dinner and a movie.  You're not thinking a nice stroll in the park. Your not even thinking a concert might sound fun.  You know you're a bonafide country girl when you want to go on a date with your husband and you want to go feed. 

What do I mean when I say "go feed"?  Well, around here the term "feed" is a verb meaning "to distribute hay to horses and/or cows".  Ranchers feed hay, generally, and they feed it via multiple means.  Some toss small bales from the back of a truck. Others might pitchfork out loose hay from a wagon. We feed our hay using a tractor pulling a haybuster and large round bales.  

And really, the event is the perfect rancher date.  Look at that tractor.  Two people don't really fit comfortably in there.  You have to sit REEEAAAALLLYYY close.  You load up the hay at the ranch then you drive in the tractor, nice and slow, the few miles to the feed pasture.  Along the drive, there is time to talk and laugh.  And did I mention how close you have to sit?   

Once you get to the pasture, the cows and horses come running for some food.  

Next, the teamwork begins.  Two people make feeding easier. You both have specific jobs to complete that work towards meeting the same goal.  Isn't that just a fun date component right there? One of us will hop out of the cab and feed pellets to the horses and cows while the other one fires up the haybuster and starts feeding piles of hay.  The haybuster is controlled from inside the tractor cab.  It takes a full round bale of hay and and spits out smaller piles of hay on the ground.  
The horses usually get the first pick of hay piles.  
Once all the horses get situated at their hay piles, the cows get their own hay piles.  The horses pick through the hay, only eating what is green and good.  The cows aren't so picky.  They eat it all. Even if it has a touch of brown or mold, they don't seem to mind.  The cows eat their piles then hang around until the horses have picked through and eaten the good stuff out of the other piles. Then the cows eat all that is left of the horse hay piles, too.   

Next, we break the ice.  This is tough work and usually makes you sweat. Again, a good date component, wouldn't you say?  Below, Justin, in his attractive new muck boots, chips away at the water hole that is along the Colorado River.  

Finally we get to the entertainment part of the date. Here, Justin shovels ice chunks out of the other water hole.  Aspen, the dog, does incredible acrobatics everyday while trying to catch the ice chunks. It's really hilarious.  She gets soaking wet, does back flips, jumps and turns. It's quite the show. 

After the ice is broken, our work is done. We load back up in the tractor for our nice, slow, close drive home. 

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

FAQ: What do the Horses do all Winter?



In an attempt to answer some of the most commonly asked questions asked by our guests during the summer, I'm starting a little FAQ (frequently asked questions) series.  So in this, the first FAQ  edition, we will learn the answer to the question: 
"What do the Horses do All Winter?" 

The answer is simple.  They go to pasture, eat, drink, and be merry.  Where they go to pasture is more of a perplexing question.  Depending on their age, ability to sustain weight and potential use around the ranch, the horses have three options for winter living.  

First, the older horses as well as the horses that need extra sustenance to make it through the winter stay at the ranch.  This group of horses is fed grain and/or senior feed daily.  

Second, the "special horses" (e.g. Justin's roping horse, Randy Sue's favorite horses, etc.) stay near the ranch in meadows near the river.  Sharing their space are additional horses that need to have an extra eye looking out for them.  This includes newer horses, younger horses, older horses, and formally injured horses.  This group of horses is fed hay daily.  

Finally, for most of the horses, winter means a trip to Walden, Colorado.  In Walden, the horses spend the fall on the Fosha's hay meadows before moving across town to be fed and cared for by a friend and neighbor.   

Tuesday, we moved the Walden bunch from the Fosha's ranch over to the Murphy ranch where they will spend the rest of the winter.  

Here they are charging across the meadow on the Fosha's Walden Ranch.  All and all, we had about 75 horses up in Walden.  It's pretty magnificent to see that size herd all running together.




The herd was corralled in pens to better accommodate us humans catchin' 'em. 

As a side note, horses are incredibly photo shy.  I took so many stinking pictures.  And you know what most of my pictures were of?

Horse REARS!

SEE? They look at you, then the second they see the camera, WHAMO! Rear in the face!

That is except for these two. Storm and Lacy. They are not only striking, but they are little camera hogs.  They seemed to sneak in front of the camera quite often. 

Okay, getting back on track. . .below, Randy Sue puts a load of horses into the trailer (notice the rear, again!).  As you can imagine, having 75 horses to trailer across town takes a little while.  Each horse is carefully accounted for using a spreadsheet with their name, where they are and when they went there. 

And this is Jim.  Jim feeds the horses for us every day and lets us know if one is sick or injured.  He does a great job.  Amazingly, he knows most of the horses names.  Geez, I don't even know most of the horses names.  Did you notice who is in the photo with him?  There they are again, sneaking in pictures. 

The Walden bunch share Jim's love with other horses.  Jim usually keeps watch over nearly 200 horses each winter.  The horses will stay with Jim until May when we pick them up and bring them home to DWR.  

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