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Posted 5/05/15 (Tue)


Across the western Dakotas, calving season is winding down. Many ranchers are done. On many ranches, the “drop” pen is getting kind of empty. Since we start a little later than many outfits, our calving pasture is still pretty well occupied.
But the brandings are beginning. I had a chance to attend a couple over this past weekend.
Now for those of you that have never attended a branding, I’ll give you a little primer. It’s one of the jobs that pretty much require a little cooperation from the neighbors.
You have to have a few ropers, or a few pushers if using a table. You have to have branders, vaccinators, implanters, castrators, and wrestlers. You have to have old people to talk about how they used to do it. And you have to have young people who can still do it.
You have to have a wife who can feed 20 or 30 people and make it look like it is real easy.
One neighbor started the gather at six in the morning. By eight, the cattle were gathered, cows sorted off and poured, and a grand breakfast was served. A breakfast that could have been featured on one of those cooking shows I love. And following the branding that afternoon, it was like a Thanksgiving feast!
The crew at that branding included a handful of ranch girls that ranged from around six to 13. And a handful of young ranch boys that dang sure weren’t afraid to bail in there wherever they were needed.
That branding was using a couple tables, and they dang sure kept them busy!
The other branding was roping and dragging the calves to the fire. And again, the pen was full of young cowboys and cowgirls wrestling some big old soggy calves. And don’t think only cowboys wrestle those calves. There were three young ladies, Gracy, Cassidy, and Karli, that never missed a beat and would have put a lot of young men to shame when it comes to holding down a 200-lb. calf!
But I owe my life to Gerald. You see, one roper caught a calf a little deep. Well, he had it roped around the flank. The calf was bucking and bellering and jumping high in the air. This does happen occasionally. And if you are quick enough, when you see this happen, you just run in to assist. You simply run in there, the roper gives you a little slack, and you pull that rope over the tail head, and still have the feet roped.
Now, notice I said if you are quick enough. I saw it happen. I eased towards the calf. As I was measuring the distance to make this sprint towards the calf and loosen the rope, I was having flashbacks of being run over by a bawling calf. And being tangled in the rope and drug through the herd.
This is when Gerald, who was branding, noticed me. He kindly reached up, grabbed my jacket, and kind of tugged me back. My instant of insanity was over, and I watched with envy as a young guy did what I was thinking I could do.
Gerald said I looked like a guy that had a friend holding him back from a fight, and was whispering to him, “Don’t let me go! Don’t let me go!”
Did I mention someone should bring beer to the branding?