Technology changes calf-branding ritual

Baxter Black

Springtime. Grass is greenin’ up, wildflowers are blooming, longjohns are comin’ off, and it’s brandin’ time!

It is a festive occasion on lots of ranches. For years it has become a time for neighbors to get together and help one another.

The cows and calves have been gathered the day before. By daylight horses have been unloaded, everybody’s saddled up and the calves are sorted from their mamas. In the corral, propane burners and branding pots are set up, brands heating, vaccine guns loaded, ear tags laid out, and dad’s knife is sharp enough to clean a hornfly’s fingernails!
Idyllic … right?

Wait … technology has reared its sleek, rancher’s helper-automated-finger mashing-clanging-banging head, in the form of a tilt table calf squeeze chute!

So nowadays when your neighbor invites you to come help him brand his calves you mumble around. You’re feeling him out as to whether he’s still roping them and dragging them to the fire or pushing them through a long narrow alley, catching them in a calf chute and immobilizing the wiggling beasts. Sure, you appreciate that it’s easier on the calves, the help, the horses, that it takes less time and labor, even less space than the traditional way, but it’s so … mechanical, so feedlot, so farmerish.

It’s like work!

Branding calves is not supposed to be work! It’s supposed to be like Christmas! The Fourth of July! Going to the National Finals Rodeo! Not like getting your Army physical or helping your neighbor unload a semi full of salt blocks.
Ya dress up to come to a branding. You wear your chaps and your spurs, not your coveralls and steel-toed Redwings. You worry about missing your dally, not banging your head.
Getting run over in the alley lacks the excitement of having a calf run under your horse. A deft jab with a Hot Shot or professional SQ injection does not elicit the same “Yee Haws” as a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch double hocking a snakey calf.

It’s the difference between shooting a pheasant out of the air or hitting one with your car. Besides, it gives your horse a purpose, and you a little glamour. And we can all use that now and then.

Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at: