The Next Adventure Part Two: Branding

By Patty Wilber

Last week I wrote about gathering the moms and calves  at the Red Cliff Ranch (click the link if you missed that one and want to see it) so that they could be branded, and this week will be the branding.  Perhaps the title gave that away.


Up at a sunrise on Sunday, we retrieved a misplaced pair (a cow and a calf) from the heifer (young female cows) pasture and moved the two over the railroad tracks into the pasture with the rest of the moms.   Lacey got up early to help.  This was not her idea, but she didn’t complain too much.

Then we had breakfast.  (More) coffee, biscuits and gravy with sausage and bacon and green chile (we are in NM, after all).  How very western!  (Cue a deep slightly drawly voice-over “Up at dawn, the hard working cowboys and cowgirls on the Red Cliff Ranch move cattle before returning to a hearty breakfast at the bunkhouse.”)

I just made up the “bunkhouse” thing.  We ate at Bill the Manager’s modern, totally normal, stucco (ok it’s “ranch-style”) house.

We all wondered how the heck we were going fork our horses when we were stuffed with biscuits, but we went ahead and waddled out to get them (I used LT this time).

LT: stand still? u think i should just stand still???
Me: sigh.


We moved the herd into the holding area and then separated the moms and calves.

Separating  was pretty easy, because the working pens are to die for.  Good solid  pipe (no one escapes until we let them out.   He he he), and gates that swing both ways for versatile maneuvering of the bovine.

Jeanne, Bill and Bill push calves to the far pen.

Jeanne, Bill the Older and Bill the Manager push calves to the far pen. Just look at that lovely pipe!

We ran the mom’s through the squeeze chutes (though there was no squeezing going on), Bill dosed them with an insecticide,

 Jeanne and Kyle kept count, and I pushed them back to the holding pens.

That ax handle was an effective tool to wave at the momma cows to make them move. I didn’t have to hit them.  “Brand”ishing was enough!

Then, we were ready to brand.

Here were the jobs:  Roper and dragger (Kyler, Wade, their cousin-the amazing-roper, and Bill the Older), pounce on the calf and hold it still (most of the guys rotated through) while the roper kept tension on the roped calves legs, ear tagger (me and Kyle); shot giver (Jim), brander (Brian, Bill or Bill), castrator (Brian and Jeanne).

The branding irons were heated in the branding iron stove that had a pinon log inside and was fed with propane.  This is safer than a wood fire, especially on a windy day. It is easier, too.

The cylindrical stove on legs is where the branding irons are.  It has a propane feed and a pinon log in there to keep it really hot.  That's Kyle with me.

The cylindrical stove on legs is where the branding irons are.  That’s Bill the older and Kyle with me.

Bill the Older roped and dragged this calf.  Notice the tension on the rope and Wade sitting on the calf’s head. This effectively immobilizes the calf.  The whole procedure of brand, ear tag, vaccinate and castrate (the former little bulls) takes just a few minutes.  But a bunch of people!

The smell of burnt hair…not so appealing.

It is hard to ear tag when the holder is sitting on the calf’s pinna. This led to some interesting moments.

Hope I don't tag his pants to the calf's ear!

Hope I don’t tag his…pants…to the calf’s ear! The ear tags are put in with something like a rivet.  Imagine if the tag included not only the ear but someone’s … clothes.  It would not be pretty!

Eventually the holders got to where they put a knee on the calf’s neck and that made it all go faster, with less risk of a mis-tag!

At first, Kyle was minding my  pup, but then he became my tagging partner.  (The best tagging team, ever, just saying!)

When Kyle starting working, Coulson started complaining, “i want cows.  i want a person.  i am bored.  yap yap yap.” At least the cows were pretty moo-y so that masked some of the dog noise.  Coulson got to hang out in the horse trailer for the afternoon.

Jim did all the sub Q (under the skin) vaccinations, but did I get a picture of that?  No.

Brian did most of the castrations and then he taught Jeanne.  It is a nearly bloodless and really fast procedure. I will spare the details. There was a ball bucket, but “calf fries” or “rocky mountain oysters” were not on the menu.  Our cook took them to a friend, so someone did eat them, just not us.

Brian castrating. The red bucket was for the "product".

Brian castrating. The red bucket was for the “product”.

Kyler and Wade’s cousin was NM High School State Champ heeler last year and may go pro.  He was amazing to watch rope! If I’d had to loop ’em, we’d still be there.

It still took most of the day to work the 95 calves and we all ate a lot of dirt from the wind and the controlled chaos of working all those baby bovines.   I could have grown a garden in my ears, too.

But fun?  You betcha!







About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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5 Responses to The Next Adventure Part Two: Branding

  1. Marilyn says:

    I was wondering who ate those RM oysters!

    • Patty says:

      They say they are rather chewy…

      • Marilyn says:

        Dunno. We have REAL oysters down here, and my view of them is about the same as my view of the RM variety. IOW, someone else can have my share!

  2. Margo says:

    Oh, yeah! Dirty work, but some of the most fun EVER! We used to have two ‘holders’…one kneeling on the neck, the other sat flat on the ground behind the calf, facing the belly side, legs extended and spread. One foot used to ‘brace’ against the ‘ground side’ haunch of the calf, then you grasped the ‘upside’ pastern of the calf. stretched that leg out and HUNG ON TIGHT! This works for smaller, younger calves; big ones are another matter! What we called simply ‘mountain oysters’ are actually quite tasty, dredged in flour and deep-fried like chicken fried steak…i don’t recall them being ‘chewy’….Back then,there was no ear tagging, just brand, castrate bull calves, vaccinate, and sometimes, dehorning if something older had been overlooked in an earlier gather, or was old enough to have horn buds(talking about range Herefords…not Angus like so many have nowadays). If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Giant'(James Dean, etc.)…I was among those horseback in long shots of holding the herd; I was 15 that summer. We got to do ‘real’ cow work on my uncle’s ranches around Ft.Davis, TX, and later, in the Organs, on the A.B. Cox ranch there…heaven on earth!! Thanks for igniting those great memories again with your story!

    • Patty says:

      Margo–thanks for sharing that! maybe next time I will try those oysters…maybe the so called chewy ones were over cooked by someone…!
      What fun to work out of Ft Davis and the Organ mts. Beautiful areas both.

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