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Spring calf branding

May 29, 2010

This is going to be a super photo-intensive post. I attended a calf branding in Goshen County, Wyoming, on Mother’s Day weekend and took more than 300 photos. I put off blogging about it for awhile because I used narrative and some photos for a newspaper story, which got held up for a week, and I didn’t want to re-use anything that belongs to the newspaper. I wrote the story as a personal column, but it appeared on the Lifestyles page because of all the photos. The page layout folks did a great job. Wish I could share it with you, but I can’t. I’ll post a link to the narrative when it’s up on the newspaper website, but if you want the full-page deal, you’ll have to try to buy a paper.

I didn’t think it was that special of a piece, but I was surprised by the reaction to it. People loved it. I actually got some phone calls about it. The manager of a livestock auction barn said it was “entertaining and accurate”. An older lady said I “got everything to a T”. People commented about it to husband at work. A week later, people are still mentioning it to me.

My hypothesis is that people reacted so strongly to it because I touched on an industry and traditional practice that are very strongly tied to the identity of the region.

One of the things that impressed me most about this springtime cultural institution was the fact that horses are still used as working animals on the ranch I visited. I’ve heard that many ranchers are now using ATVs to round up the cattle from the range and metal squeeze chutes to hold the calves instead of people getting down in the dirt to hold the critters. Apparently, it’s getting harder and harder for many ranchers to round up enough people to help do it the old-fashioned way.

These photos encompass two “rounds” of branding. I arrived late for the first one, so the cows and calves were already separated and branding was underway. There was a coffee and doughnut break, and then everyone drove off to the next location for round two. I’ll try to intermix the photos into a procedural order rather than chronological order. Here goes.

It was chilly for mid-May. Laramie Peak still had snow on it.

People trailered in their horses.

Riders of all ages hopped in the saddle.

A stream of pickups full of helping hands arrived. It was pretty dusty out there. My passenger window, which I rolled down to take some pictures, still creaks with grit.

After the gravel road, there was a rutted track through the rangeland. It’s a good thing my vehicle has a higher-than-normal clearance.

Hey! Who let the yuppie in?!??

HAPPY! DOG!! (See? He’s smiling.)


Into the corral.

I saw kids playing with what looked like colorful canoe paddles. They were actually “calf shakers” (my word for them; I don’t know the proper term). They’re giant rattles used when turning the cows out of the corral, leaving the calves behind.

Horse looking out over a sea of calves, anxious mommas behind.

Hang on, kiddo. I’ll spring you outta here!

A cow gives husband a piece of her mind. “Where’s my baby, you cretin, yooooou?”

Cattledogs were also used to help with the roundup. Trouble is, one they’re switched on, they’re hard to deactivate. CATTLE!!! OHBOYOHBOYOHBOYOHBOY!

This guy kept squirming under the fence to “help”, and kept getting chastised by his master. I know I took a shot of this dog, absolutely, flat-out exhausted at the end of the day, but I can’t find the picture.

Here’s the overview of the whole shootin’-match. At left, cows are gathered around the calf herd. People on horseback rope the calves by a hind leg and drag them out. People line up at the exit of the calf corral to flip the calf, guide it out, and hold it, one person at the head, one at the back end. The calf is vaccinated and marked with dye, branded, and, if necessary, castrated and de-horned. All this is taking place with a half dozen or so calves at once in close quarters. At right, the branded calves collect, along with some more anxious mommas. When all the calves are done, they’re counted and turned back to their mommas.

Once the calves are all gathered, the ropin’ starts.

There’s lotsa cowboy types out here. See? Spurs and leather chaps.

This cowboy’s getting crap from his buddies over his choice of a pink shirt that morning.

He did just fine with the roping.

Dragging a calf out.

This young roper made me smile. It was the day before Mother’s Day, and he had written I ♡ MOM on his jeans. Later I heard that he wrote on his jeans because his mom wouldn’t let him get it as a tattoo.

It wasn’t just the guys out there having fun. There were cowgirls, too. (Interesting that most of the cowboys wore the traditional hat, while the cowgirls mostly chose ballcaps.)

Here’s a line of calf wranglers waiting to grab the next drug-out calf.

The branding irons were kept hot in a propane-fueled heater rather than an open flame.

Good place to warm your hands on a cold morning.

The branding irons.

The calves were *not* happy. They were getting burned and poked and cut. Surprisingly, they seemed to holler the loudest not at the procedures but at the separation from their mothers. It’s really scary for a young herd animal to be forcibly separated from its momma.

Here’s a demonstration of the calf hold:

Checking the vaccine.

This young feller’s pretty new at calf holding. Here comes the vaccination syringe . . .

Whoops! Whoa!

Here, grab on, son!

Hmm. This cowboy got paint on his face like the vaccinated calves do. Did he get poked with a needle?

Here’s a summary of the hazards of calf branding season. (I’m sure tons of tourists would love to get involved with something like this, but I imagine the insurance would be cost-prohibitive.)

It’s safest to view the action from the other side of the fence. Horseback is a good vantage point.

Branding’s done. Time to count the calves.

Time for a snack, too. And time to clean off a knife.

Aww, man! You dropped a donut! Party foul! You gotta eat it now!

After the chores are done, everybody heads back for a potluck meal featuring, you guessed it . . . beef!

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2010 5:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing all these photos and the commentary is right on!

  2. sue mommy permalink
    May 30, 2010 1:14 pm

    I loved that! With all the wonderful pictures, it was like being there myself. Wish I could hop on ol’ paint right now and take off across the prairie!


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