For me it’s one of my favorite times of the year. A time to help a neighbor or he or she will help you. A time to get together with old friends and maybe meet some new ones. A time to climb onto my saddle and rope a calf or two and over the course of the day the branding crew will usually rope and brand 100 to 300 head of calves and administer several vaccines to prevent some of the more common cattle diseases.
This practice has been a necessary staple of our industry for centuries. I’m sure that it must seem barbaric to some. So let me explain the necessity of placing brands on young calves. First, in order to show ownership of a calf it must be branded while it is living with its mother. It must have a brand on any one of 6 locations on his hide made with a state registered Branding Iron. So if a calf is over 6 months old and no longer with its mother and (has no brand) it belongs to whoever has it in their possession. For this reason banks that have loaned money to a rancher are quite demanding that their asset is properly marked (must be branded).
The day has arrived that my neighbor has chosen to brand his calves. First and uppermost on his mind is to get the calves branded quickly to minimize stress, for stress can be a precursor that can cause a calf to get sick. Ranchers on the Central Coast of California usually choose to rope their calves for there are many good corral ropers in our part of California that make things go quickly and smoothly.
The cows and their calves are gathered into a sorting alley where the calves are parted into a pen and their mothers are put into a pasture next to the branding corral. In today’s world most ranchers use an electric branding iron that is heated by using a generator. I believe an electric iron for the most part will make a better brand that is more legible and will heal faster.
It’s time now to have the first 5 horseback ropers enter the corral and a ground crew that will brand and vaccinate the calves contains the next crew of ropers. Let it be said that working the ground is not near as much fun as roping so the ground crew is always “Johnny on the spot “ because quicker gets you off the ground and onto your horse.
One of the ropers has caught a calf by the neck. Now another roper positions his horse behind the calf and ropes the 2 hind feet. The ground crew moves in and puts the calf on the ground and takes the rope off the head and places it on his 2 front legs. Then the person on the head horse backs his horse to tighten the rope so the calf can’t kick free. This process is repeated on the back legs and then the calf is ready to be vaccinated, branded, ear tagged and if a male, castrated. So you ask how long is the calf on the ground? About 2 to 3 minutes. Because stress is always on everybody’s mind, usually 10 calves are all that are put in the branding corral at one time. These 10 calves are then processed in 15 to 20 minuets as most of the time 2 calves are on the ground at the same time.
Now with a shout of “all done” the corral gate is swung open to where all the mommies are waiting. The calves have been away from their mothers for 2 to 3 hours so many of the now freshly branded will immediately pull mom off to one side and start to nurse. I hope I have explained with some clarity what happens to a calf before and after he is branded.
I think the population of people that are upset by this supposedly barbaric procedure need to realize that their idea of pain is vastly different than the calves idea of pain. The first glaring difference is we humans are able to anticipate the future . An example, you go to the dentist and he tells you that you will need all your Wisdom Teeth pulled and he or she can do it in 2 weeks. So for 2 weeks you get to agonize over the perceived pain in the chair and the discomfort while healing.
So to all of you, out there, that are looking for places where pain happens. I suggest that you look no farther than your local boarding horse stable. The barn is immaculate, the horses are feed only the best hay and grain so that their hair coat is bright and shiny. Their 12 by12 stall has fresh bedding. Who could want for more? Let’s ask the horse. His body language will tell you of his malaise. Some spend there whole lives Weaving back and forth locked in their 12×12 home others are Cribbing so the caretaker puts a cradle around the horses neck so he won’t spend his days “sucking wind” Mr. or Mrs. horse is irritable most of the time. Just entering his or her “ box stall” you want to be careful for you are the cause of all their irritability. The sure cure for this life of misery? How about some regular exercise and less Box Stall time. “Sorry, I’m to busy, I haven’t got the time”