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Round ‘Em Up and Ship ‘Em Out!

Let the wilderness drive us forth as wonderers, scatter our broken bones upon these sands…it shall not kill the purpose that brought us here…the dream still lives, it lives…and shall not die.PAUL GREEN


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For one week in June, a year’s worth of cow/calf operations comes to reality.  As it has been for a century, and as it is now around spring time, the herd is brought to working pens for calves to be branded. The early morning shadows outside the window hides the corral in shades of gray, and I’m thinking about the dugout ca. 1895 that remains as a reminder of the people who worked here before us.

Original dugout ca. 1895.

Original dugout ca. 1895 Sanford Ranch

The dirt dwelling has endured many transformations through the years as evidenced by crumbling cement in various shades, pipes and wires that seem out of place, and the ancient bath tub that stands in one corner. The story goes that at one time a family of three made room every night for four cowhands and their bedrolls.

I wonder about the lady-of-the-dugout. Garland Snow Whiteside Sanford would have probably been awake before sunrise, just like me. I imagine she might have taken a few moments to appreciate the stunning Texas sky before stirring the pot of beans and hanging the beef brisket over the fire. The menu hasn’t changed much.

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Tavia and Belinda serves up hearty dishes for about 40 day workers and ranch guests during the week of branding.

The day starts early so that the work can be finished by noon, before the afternoon heat, which is less stress on the calves.

Every morning, with spurs jangling, hungry day workers line up to fill their coffee cups in our cookhouse. All heads bow as Ranch Foreman, B. P. Vinson, blesses the food and offers up prayers for an injury free day. The eggs, biscuits, and sausage gravy disappears in record time. Everyone hustles outside where B. P.  points cowboys and cowgirls to assigned stock trailers. Bridles clink, leather creaks, and hooves clop on metal, as horses strange to each other load up. Sometimes, it’s not a friendly type situation. There’s some kicking, biting and ruckus until the wheels roll, among the horses, that is. Cowboys tend to be very mannerly.

Some people might be in disbelief that this kind of work goes on today. Although I wasn’t raised on a cattle ranch, the attitude is the same when my grandfather planted cotton, or my father welded all day on a plow for an anxious farmer. There is work to be done. Might as well get to it.

The cookhouse is empty and quiet for now.

The cookhouse stands empty and quiet until fall roundup and weaning.

A few differences are visual in today’s ranching world when compared to the days of old. Horses are transported to the back pasture by pickup truck and trailer. A propane tank heats the branding iron instead of a camp fire. Thank goodness for modern medicine and the ability to vaccinate against the devastatingly fatal disease of black leg.

For another year, I felt blessed beyond measure to be a part of this process alongside my husband, and for the opportunity to take a few pictures. Hard-working, fun-loving people with some great stories to tell. Fat, healthy grass-fed beef. Endless grass. The big, blue Texas sky.

As the days shorten, the dates are already set  for the Fall gathering. In a few weeks the entire herd will be pushed to the headquarters, where calves are stripped from the mothers and driven to traps for fence-line weaning. In about a month a line of tractor trailer rigs will  haul off the beef we’ve produced this year. The business of feeding hungry people is done and the cycle begins again.

My hat’s off to the folks who help us every year; for holding fast to tradition and who never take for granted this blessed lifestyle we freely choose.

All pictures by N. Bright. All rights reserved.

Natalie Bright is an author and blogger, writing about horses, cowboys, and the genuine people of the west. 

Sunrise over the corral.

Sunrise over the corral. Time to saddle up.

Natalie is the author of the Rescue Animal Series of picture books. Click the link and read it now Amazon Kindle.