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Spring Branding on a Texas Ranch

Why Brand?

Every spring on cattle ranches throughout rural areas, cowboys and cowgirls gather the cow/calf operation herds for branding. A few have modernized the process with the addition of four-wheelers and electric squeeze chutes, while others follow the same age old traditions practiced for over 150 years.

Using ranch-trained horses, cowboys and cowgirls push the herd to a set of working pens. In the midst of bawling calves and answered calls from their mommas, ground crews are amazingly fast and efficient to minimize the stress on the calf.

 

Some people claim that branding of livestock is a cruel practice, but it is necessary to establish ownership. The practice was introduced to North America by Cortes when he landed at Veracruz in 1519 with a few head of Andalusian cattle. He branded Three Christian Crosses on his small herd. Today, the only thing separating our calves from the neighbors herd is a few strands of barbed wire, and they do find ways to get lost on the other side. The new beef crop is too valuable and branding is still the most accurate and humane way to identify the livestock that graze on the expansive  grasses of the High Plains.

 

New additions to the herd must be branded, vaccinated against black leg, ear tagged for hormone free, age-verified program, color coded for boy or girl, and bulls become steers. Our crew is capable of working one calf every few minutes. The iron is super hot and a cow’s hide is thick and tough. There’s so much going on at one time, I think the babies are more upset about being apart from their mother than anything. The color coded ear tag makes it easier to separate out the steers for fall shipment. My husband can walk through a pen of only heifers to decide which ones he wants to keep.

 

Watch out for that Horse!

Some rules are unwritten, but passed down from generation to generation. Here are a few:

  1. Horses have the right of way.
  2. There’s one boss who will assign you a job.
  3. Stay on the side you’ve been assigned to.
  4. Flankers stay alert and be ready.
  5. If it’s not your turn to flank, stay out of the way.
  6. Be ready ear taggers, shot needles; wait until the calf is flanked, and then get in and do your job.
  7. Work fast.
  8. Horses have the right of way. Always!

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If You Climb into the Saddle be Ready for the Ride

The cookhouse crew gets up before anybody, and breakfast is at 6:00 am sharp. Riders are in the saddle by morning’s first light. Beginning at the far corners, cows are driven to a central location, and then proceed as one herd to a set of pipe rail pens. We have working pens placed strategically throughout the ranch as a fenced pasture of grassland can be several sections in size (a section of land is 640 acres).

The Working Pen

At the pens, the babies are stripped from the cows. One cowboy and a good cutting horse works the gate. Babies are kept back while the mothers are allowed through. As the babies gather in one end of a separate pen from their mothers, two ropers ease into the bunch and the real work begins.

Rope and Drag

For centuries rope-and-drag, which is the process we use,  was practiced in the open pasture before barbed wire and pens. Today we use working pens. Two groups of workers stand on either side of the branding pot. Everyone is assigned a job; administer shots, fill shot needles, ear tags, ropers, or flankers. Overseeing the entire chaos is our ranch foreman.

Flanking

Two flankers work together, one on the rope and one on the tail, to flip the calf on it’s side. The rope is removed. One places a knee on his neck and holds the top foreleg, while another braces his foot against the hind leg and stretches the top hind leg. Flanking is all about timing between the two rastlers. The description seems long, but the actual event takes place in a few seconds. The calf is flipped on his side before he even knows what’s happening.

Back to the Pasture

After every new calf is processed, Mommas are allowed to find their babies, and  when everybody is paired back up and calm down the drive begins back to their pasture. Interestingly enough, they know the way and are usually anxious to get back  their home. Day workers, neighbors, and friends gather back at the cookhouse for lunch. Work is done before the heat of the day and it begins again at sun up the next day.

 

Wide open spaces are good for the heart.

 

About Natalie

The two newest books in my RESCUE ANIMAL SERIES features a Tennessee Walker named Flash and a registered Hackney named Taz. Click on the books tab above for more information. For a funny, Wild West adventure, the TROUBLE IN TEXAS series is perfect for middle grades and family read-a-longs. Coming soon for young adults, WOLF’S WAR is a dark adventure set in the Texas frontier about a muleskinner and Comanche brave who reluctantly fight together against a ruthless gang of outlaws. Also in the works under NKB Books, tales from an Arkansas Vet and a book for novice cow punchers about the unwritten rules of the cowboy code.

Click the BOOKS tab at the top for more information.