PRESENTING: THE RANCHING WAY OF LIFE
Considered a ranching family tradition, "Branding Day" is where the family + friends all come together. Starting before day break, we all gather for breakfast + coffee + then head over to the working pens. Everyone unloads their horses + mount up + venture out into the pasture to bring up the herd. Everyone works as a team to make sure no cattle are left behind + any strays are brought back to the group. They are then all herded + gathered into a large pen.
The cattle are then sorted- in/by to different pens. This separates the calves from the cows. Then the fun starts! Cowboys + cowgirls all take turns roping the calves to work them (brand, vaccinate, tag ears, notch ears, castrate the bull calves, doctor any sicklings, de-worm). The calves are all roped by their back legs and drug to the cowboys that flank them down + work them. Roping + flanking the calves allows as little stress as possible for the calf.
Once they are all worked, it is time to run the mama cows through the working chute for vaccinations + de-wormer + misc. care + to see them up close to make sure nobody needs any extra attention. This is a good opportunity to doctor any bad eyes, replace lost ear tags, attend to any other health issues in the large cows since they are too big to man handle without the chute. This is also less stressful for everyone (cowboys + horses included) rather than having to rope them all. Once all the mama cows are worked + run through the chutes, the cows + the calves are turned back in together to settle + make sure everyone pairs back up. (This means making sure the appropriate calf has found its own mom!)
In a few more months, the cattle will all be brought up out of the pasture + pushed back into the pens again. The "shorts" will go through the branding process (these are the calves that weren't born yet when the main branding went on). The shorts will stay with their mamas if they are too little to be weaned. All the other calves will be sorted off (weaned)- separated by steers/heifers + placed into separate pastures keeping them apart. (They became steers when they were castrated in the earlier branding, formally known as bull calves).
Two main factors that go into deciding when to ship off calves comes from if there has been a freeze already + the weather prediction for the upcoming months. If there has already been a freeze this affects the grass that will feed the cattle. If there has already been a freeze, then all the grass has died. If you think about it this makes a lot of sense, even if you know nothing about cattle or ranching. Early freeze = no grass = you will have more calves to feed.
This means you dip more into your resources + hay that you have bailed back to feed through the Winter. If the weather is supposed to be wet + cold, you are also more likely to have sick calves after weaning... so sometimes it is a better roll of the dice to wean/ship off immediately. Big semi-trucks with special trailers made for hauling cattle (usually with multiple decks/levels to hold the cattle) back up to the loading chute. Calves are pushed into the holding area 8-10 at a time + loaded into the trailer + off they go!
Shipping immediately after weaning can be more stressful for the calves, but is better for the operation as a whole. The calves will either be loaded onto sale trucks immediately after being weaned, or will be weaned on the ranch + then shipped off when they are ready + when the market is right. The ranch will pick out some heifers to keep to breed back to their bulls to grow their herd with more mama cows, while the rest are sold to market. Keeping some heifers back to breed allows for more mama cows which equivalates to more calves the following Spring.
Branding is always an all day, sometimes two day ordeal. Everyone then gathers for dinner + fellowship + to talk about all the happenings of the day + if anyone got into any good wrecks or bucked off their horse inside the branding pen to get a good laugh about it. The cowboy way of life has survived generation after generation + is here to stay. I am honored to get to be apart of a ranching family + be able to capture these images to share with you. -CL