The middle of May is a busy time for spring cattle work. One of the biggest tasks ranchers have is to vaccinate and brand calves.Working calves is vital to keeping them healthy and to identify them.
Monday we worked calves at J’s Cousin’s ranch; Tuesday we worked calves at home.
There is a lot of preparations to make branding day run smooth. Cattle lots get cleaned, vaccine and supplies are ordered, fences and gates get reinforced, J lines up a crew and then we pray for good weather. Don’t forget, there’s a meal to plan and prepare too.
Working crews usually include a combination of family and neighbors.
Calf pusher – These crew members push calves from a small holding pen into the cradle. Any extra help that shows up usually gets to help move calves. This is usually the first job a ranch kid has on branding day.
Head Catcher – This year Cousin T’s nephew caught the calf’s head and held it for the person giving implants and fly tagging. Then he lets the calf out of the cradle.
Brander– J’s Dad branded for many years. In the last few years J has been handed the job. J also pulls the chute over so the calf is laying on its side and tips the calf back up to be let out of the cradle.
Hind leg holder – This person holds the calf’s hind leg. We like to have the hind leg held back to make sure we get a legible brand; it also helps the castrator. J’s Dad has been promoted to this job.
Shot Giver – That’s my job! Cousin T had enough help that he had two shot givers.
Head Work – We give our steers an implant and all the calves get a fly tag at branding. This is J’s Mom’s job and the job of Cousin T’ s Wife.
Castrator – Cousin T is the castrator, he cuts the bulls and gives a shot. He inherited this task from his Dad.
When we get to going we can process a calf in 60 seconds or less.
Our routine is to gather and sort the first group of pairs, then work a few calves and stop for coffee. The tradition on our ranch is to have ham sandwiches. J’s Mom and I also had homemade doughnuts and bars to snack on.
The rest of the first bunch gets worked and returned to their pasture. After moving cows and calves it’s important to make sure the calves find their mother again. This can be a process. Calves will run back to where they last saw mamma and we have to keep bringing them back to the group until everyone is paired back up.
Next, we gather the second group of pairs and repeat the process.
While the second bunch is settling down the cooks head in to get a meal on the table. Yes, most Ranch Wives work outside all morning and get a bountiful meal on the table for a hungry crew. Depending on how the day goes and how quick cattle pair back up we usually end up eating dinner around 2 pm.
As our good help heads home, the cooks clean up dishes and head back outside to help the guys look cattle over. It’s important to go back check and make sure all the calves found their mamma, that we don’t have any calves or cows running back and note any calves that are not feeling good. After getting worked the calves will be sore; on a rare occasion a calf will have a reaction to the shots.
We also have clean up duty. Trash gets thrown away, syringes get washed, supplies are put back in an orderly fashion and the washing machine gets filled with smokey dirty laundry.
By dark we are ready for a shower and soft chair. It’s a long day, it’s a big job and we are blessed to have great help.