Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Burnt Leather

"Brands are the classical
language of
the American West."
~ Ivan Doig

While many parts of the romanticized west are quickly fading into history, the practical ones tend to stick. Come May and June, the community is busy with brandings on an almost daily basis. The herd is gathered from the spring pasture and the mother cows and calves are are divvied up into separate pens for the day. It is the first time in their young lives that they have ever been without mama and the bawling from both sides is almost overwhelming.
It's a stressful sort of a day. Ten points if you can guess what Danish Cowboy is up to.
Bonus points if you can make him quit.
I try to not give him too hard of a time on days like today. After all, there is a lot to take care of: a crew of "wrestlers" consisting of high school boys needs to be assembled, trusty neighbors need to be scheduled in, all of the appropriate medicines need to be acquired, the steer calves need to be checked to make sure that they really are steers these days, and Danish Cowboy needs to coach everyone into checking for horn growth (removed via fire) and properly applying brands.
We're lucky to get all of the great help that we do. It is hard, dirty work and many of these men do this day in and day out for two months straight. Brands are important because believe it or not, cattle rustling still occurs. Don't ask me how, but it does. Throughout the majority of the west, a bill of sale and proof of ownership of a branded animal are necessary for a sale to occur. However, if someone were to round up the calves and no brand existed, there is no legal way to trace the cattle. They could be hauled overnight to a geographical area that does not require ownership identification and sold to the highest bidder, never to be seen by us again. And so we continue to brand the animals.
Our brand is known as the Hanging HX and is applied to the left hip on cattle. You read a brand from left to right, top to bottom. Brands can be applied on either hip, either shoulder, or either rib cage, depending on how the brand is registered witht he state. Letters adjoining one another at the corners are known as hanging. Letters on their side are "lazy." There are symbols, there are rocking letters, there are bars, there are flying letters. Anyone can buy a brand from the state of their residence in the west, but the choicest brands are long gone from the public domain, handed down from generation to generation. You will occasionally see a brand for sale in the local paper, but this is rare and they usually come at a hefty price.
We do try to treat the help well and turn it into somewhat of a social day. We take breaks, laugh with the kids, and get away from that acrid smell of smoked cow hide. There is no alcohol involved in the successful completion of a branding. None whatsoever.
And when we are done with the day and all the help has gone home to a well deserved bed, we hope to have all of the calves branded properly with the Hanging HX and ready to be distributed to summer pasture. Clean brands, properly placed on the left hip are quick to heal and will leave the legacy of our ranch wherever these calves may end up. Branding happens around our place on the first or second Friday in May. Unless it's raining. Or there's a track meet and the high schoolers can't show up. Care to join us next year?

1 comment:

  1. Let me know the date! We'll be there as long as you can promise there won't be days upon days of rain again. Of course, it rains here all the time anymore too. And yes, I do know what DC is doing and I almost disposed of a small stash that was found in the back of my car after the game in December. I didn't, guess I should have.