Branding time for calves. The day is bright and sunny, hot but not too hot, dusty, lots and lots of mamas mooing and calves mooing because they are separated from mama. Approximately 250 calves are being branded today and earlier in the day were rounded up by the cowboys and put into corrals. The horses were calmly resting outside the corral or working pretty hard inside the corral as their riders lasso a calf for the for the newborn calf procedure. The smell of burnt hair floats through the air, mixed with cow and horse smells (you know what I mean).
Watching the well-trained horses and mules and the skill of the ropers was wonderful, a real live rodeo. This will give me an even greater appreciation for Mule Days at the end of May. Never having closely observed roping skills, watching the cowboys or cowgirls work in close quarters with other working horses makes me believe calf branding should be an Olympic event.
The first trick to catching the calves are the cowboys (or cowgirls) sitting astride their mounts, circling the calves while swinging the lasso around and around. They throw the loop clipping the calves on the backs of their legs which in turn makes them jump and the lasso goes around their legs. This cowboy is riding a mule instead of horse and believe me, when riders ride mules, nothing would convince them to ride horses instead.
The two young men running toward the calf are students at Deep Springs College who are helping for the day. Once the calf is caught, the horse and rider drag him closer to the back of the corral. The men hold the rope taut behind the calf while the cowboy backs his horse up and wraps the rope around the saddle horn. The horse knows to stand perfectly still, keeping the rope taut. The cowgirl on the left was about my age and she pulled in just as many calves as the guys!
The calves are all turned on their right side so that the brand is always on the left side. The man in the red shirt has the brand in his hand. Their ears are tagged and notched in case the tag falls out. These cattle are all range cattle, and the notch is an assurance that the calves will be known by the rancher.
The injector is about 18″ long to make sure the calf doesn’t spit it back out!
Another cowgirl is also ready with a LARGE hypodermic needle filled with immunizations.
The vet is also on hand to castrate the bulls – making them steers and really good eating!
Yes, those are braids hanging down below that white hat. Quite an exciting day. Lots of camaraderie, laughs, food and hard work. The calves know they’ve been manhandled and when all twenty-five in that batch are let out of the corral, the mamas and calves are reunited and the calves nurse to make it all better. They’ll be sore for a couple of days – as will the cowboys, but they won’t die from Rhinotracheitis or Parainfluenza3 and lots of other diseases that plague cattle. Then the next twenty-five calves are let into the corral and process continues.