There’s a lot about ranching I don’t know. For example, I’m not great at riding horses and I don’t know how to rope. I can sit behind a computer and crank out emails like I was born with a keyboard and draw roadways faster than you can tie your shoes, but that won’t buy you a slice of bologna when you have a horse hurt, a cow loose, or a crew to feed.
But wait a minute. . . don’t count me out as a rancher yet. I wasn’t a total city slicker when I fell for my cowboy. I did, for instance, ride my bike across town with cowboy boots in my backpack to take horseback riding lessons one summer. In college, I signed up to shovel horse manure in exchange for riding lessons. And, the crowning glory of my ranching knowledge: I knew how to brand a cow long before I met Justin.
Growing up, my mom would take us back every single spring to her father’s 4000 acre cattle ranch near Meeker, Colorado for branding. It was a family reunion of sorts. With cousins, uncles, aunts, and neighbors, we’d help Papa Jim round-up, sort, rope, brand and vaccinate around 200 calves. We’d then share a huge feast and a few laughs. It was exhausting work and I’m pretty sure my cousins made fun of me the whole time for being the neophyte of the bunch, but, never-the-less, I cherish those branding memories.
Last week, it was branding time around Drowsy Water Ranch. As usual, it was exhausting work. Here’s a summary of the job.
First, you need a few calves. Here they are, lined up in the chute that Justin and Tyler built last fall for roping.
Next, you need some help. The enlisted help included family, wranglers, and few outstanding guests.
We branded the calves with the Drowsy Water Ranch’s Lazy K-Quarter Circle. We used both an electric iron with the calf-table method,
and the old fashioned iron with the tackle method.
Both methods work just fine. In general, it goes like this: the calf-table makes life easier, and the tackle method makes life a whole heck of a lot more fun. (he-he, see Reid, a guest, holding his nose!)
With the calf table, you walk the calves through the chute, into the table, squeeze their body while their head hangs out, then turn the table on its side. The bars of the table can then be lifted to brand, castrate, vaccinate, etc.
With the tackle method (this is what we did back at Papa Jim’s ranch), you rope a calf by the back leg, then drag ’em over to two wrestler’s-in-waiting. The wrestlers then have to grab the kicking, pooping, leaping calf and attempt to tackle him. Typically, one person gets the front end, one gets the back end. Sometimes this works and sometimes one person ends up clinging to ears and fur for dear life while the calf takes them on a ride. This method is best for laughs.
Once the calf is restrained, we brand the little guys, vaccinate ’em, and, if they are bull calves, we castrate ’em. My uncle, Buckshot, did a lot of the castrating at Papa Jim’s. He’d say “bet you didn’t know I am a bovine psychologist, I’m about to change this bull’s state of mind!”
So, here’s Ken, the psychologist.
OOOOH, that is a baaaaad joke.
Finally, when they’re all done and branded, they spend a night or two at the ranch where we monitor for any problems. Then we push them out onto open range where they get to eat grass and roam around for the summer.