If you want to brand some cows you’re going to have to sear some flesh, and other things I learned about branding…
Ever since we decided to stay in Alberta for the summer, Travis has been talking about branding. It’s been a few years since he’s had the chance to roll around in the dirt with 200-lbs calves. You can see how he might have missed it.
He also missed the memo advising him he is eight years older than the last time he grabbed a calf by its hind leg and single-handedly wrestled it to the ground. I heard more whining from him over the next four days than I did from all 100 calves in the pen combined.
(Love you, Honey!)
Here’s what I know about branding:
1. Burning cow hide smells much like you would expect.
2. The beef you eat starts out in a pen much like this one.
3. The cows in the neighbouring pen are pissed right off that you are making their calves moo.
4. A good branding is a community event, with a veritable feed afterwards to nourish the hardworking wrasslers and ropers.
5. Grown men will whimper when a calf kicks them in the shin.
6. Wear your least-favourite clothes.
7. Cattle vaccinations are administered through effing huge needles.
8. That ropy thing that looks like an intestine hanging over the fence? That’s a steer’s testicles.
9. Ranch kids – two-year-old ranch kids – know way more about cattle gates and horses than I do.
Sylvia, however, held her own.
Initially, there were 25 calves in a small pen with about 10 wasslers (wranglers), branders and needle-wielding women. The wrasslers would grab a calf, wrestle it over on its left side and pin it down while it got branded, vaccinated, castrated (if need be) and marked as done. After the first two batches of animals, the wrasslers cried uncle and they brought in the horses. The horses did the initial work of the wrasslers – that is, dragging the calf into position, so the boys didn’t get quite as many bruises as they would have.
Can we stop for a moment and admire the lasso?
The rope would catch a calf around its hind legs, then the horse would drag it across the pen, where Travis and the rest of the motely crew were standing by to finish the job.
It was all very exciting, and smelly, and noisy and hot and exhausting. It was almost worth missing the whales and icebergs and June in NL for. It was especially fun when I was tweeting about #branding to have all kinds of new twitter followers from PR firms and Social Media sites… you know, because branding doesn’t always mean cows and hot iron anymore. Travis’ bruises are fading slowly, but he has full function of his right hand again, so I figure we’ll be ready for Take Two in a week or so.
As for Sylvia, anytime she gets to skip a nap and drink juice and eat chips and climb fences is alright by her. (That’s another thing about branding – parental ideals go way out the window when you’re in a cattle pen under the hot sun, and you’re too scared of the bulls in the next pen to risk a dash to the car.)
She’s no worse for the wear. I think we’ll do this again some day.