Springtime for some people is when they see their first robin, sandhill crane, mountain bluebird or meadowlark. While bird watching is something we do as part of being mindful of nature, it is branding that marks the event for our family. Ranchers celebrate spring by gathering family and friends around this time of year for the annual branding. While everyone is busy trying to make a living, out of town or adjusting schedules for kid’s soccer and spouse’s work shifts, they make it a priority to be at the ranch to help us.
Some things are the same and some things are different. We use the calf table now because it is quicker and requires a smaller crew. But most ranchers wouldn't think of giving up roping and dragging calves to the fire. We don’t Ralgro anymore. That is, we don’t implant hormones to enhance growth. Our natural calves are destined to be part of a Montana Branded Beef product. It is part of the value-added niche that we are trying to carve out for our reputation Angus beef.
We are branding a week later this year and the calves are big. JV and Joe and grandson Jess push the calves up the alley and into the chute. Little Jess is never very far away if a cow is ‘spose to go from one place to another. Jay and Bill are on the business end of the deal as they run the calf table levers and tip the calves on their sides and then Jay brands them. Kristi and Shannon vaccinate the calves against diseases that calves and cows get while Jami ear notches a left under bite as another identifier. We try to get the branding all done in one day so we are dog tired at the end of the day. But not so busy that we can’t have a beer to settle the dust and share laughs over practical jokes.
Grandpa is everywhere and nowhere. Keeping beer and pop and cookies available for breaks and helping at each station as needed. But he often thought his most important job was 4-wheeling with the grandkids. My job was lambing. We’re on the tail end of that now--down to the wild ones. My theory is that these late lambers are so wild that even the bucks couldn’t catch them early on. At any rate, it is a challenge to get the ewes to follow into the jugs. Only three bum lambs in the sheep shed and the grandkids love to bottle feeding them. We've managed to sneak the other bum lambs into town to give away to friends.
A creek winds its way through the ranch and there is something about grandkids and water that is a given. By the end of the day the kids were varying degrees of wet. Jordon was head to toe wet after her fall. Justin and Jake’s pant legs were dragging in the mud. Only 5 year old Jess was dry. He was smart…he went to the porch and put on grandpa’s boots which reach clear to his hips! Jess has a good outlook on life. He loves ranch life—whether chasing cows, riding sheep or wading in the creek in grandpa’s boots. It’s all an adventure to him.
Soon enough we gear up to face the farming and irrigating and haying and all the rest of the summer frenzy. But branding day is a springtime celebration at the ranch and a rite of passage for those calves that now carry the Lazy Y Hanging 5 on their left hip.