On The Ranch

Why We Brand Calves

DSC_0675

DSC_0671

DSC_0688

DSC_0667

DSC_0649

DSC_0690

DSC_0701

DSC_0708

DSC_0683

DSC_0658

DSC_0652

DSC_0713

DSC_0648

DSC_0693

It’s Monday (or it was, when I wrote this. The fact that I’m posting it on a Wednesday is a testament to how Monday it was). Usually Mondays aren’t so bad considering I basically work from home but man, today I’m dragging. Friday we branded calves, Saturday we went to a neighbor’s branding, and Sunday I spent most of the day baby showering one of my best friends, and then Bert and I took the boys to Mexican afterwards. It was a lovely, full weekend, but there’s a TON of laundry, a pile of dishes in the sink, grit on the floor, and my motivation to take care of any of it is nil.

But life is short, so I’m deciding I don’t care.

Now, speaking of branding…

Branding is one of the oldest traditions as far as raising cattle goes, and the spring branding season is a time for ranches to invite family, friends, and neighbors over to brand calves and have a meal. Some ranches have one big branding over an entire day or weekend, some (like us) have a few smaller brandings, and some ranches–particularly the large southwestern ones with thousands of  cattle spread out over hundreds of thousands of acres–will have weeks of branding each spring.

It struck me the other day that I’ve talked an awful lot about going to brand calves, or what the boys do while we’re branding calves, or the glory of Starbucks before branding calves, but I’ve never actually talked about why we brand calves.

Spoiler: it’s not just so I can take thousands of pictures of my studmuffin husband roping calves or my hilarious two-year-old running amok in his cowboy hat. Or so we have an excuse to get together for a fun day with neighbors, although that aspect of it makes it look a lot less like work.

The long and short of it is identification. Also, in some states (like ours) it’s the law. In the days before ear tags and the like, a brand was the only way to distinguish your cattle from your neighbor’s, and in the event that they got mixed or an animal got loose, a brand ensured that you knew which cattle went where. We still brand cattle today for the same reasons because while ear tags can get lost fairly easily, brands are permanent. Other forms of permanent ID (freeze brands, tattoos) are more for individual identification than owner identification.

Branding is often accompanied by vaccinations, and treatment of any sick animals since the calves are already roped. The cowboys know how to rope and handle the calves to minimize stress on the animals, and they hop right up and go back to their mothers once their turn is over.

Thus, even though cowboys are no longer trailing cattle thousands of miles from Texas to Montana, brands are still the most effective, long-lasting way to prove ownership and differentiate your cattle from your neighbors’. Cattle still get mixed, or are run together on grazing cooperatives. Branding is a great time to see to the health of the calves, too, and it’s a great time to spend with neighbors in the sunshine.

If you have any questions about branding at all, please comment here or email me!

Day in the Life · On The Ranch

Day in the Life: Branding Calves

morning5:30 am Buster and I wake up for the day! Usually we get up a little later, or go back to sleep after I feed him, but since we needed to be up and at ’em, I decided we may as well get up. And no, nothing’s on fire–the nightlight is, apparently, oddly orange.

buster morning6:00 am after Buster eats and gets a diaper change, he comes downstairs with me while I pump and do a little work (my current location!). He lays on a blanket and squeals and snarfs while I get a little work done or check social media.

buster carseat
7:15 am both boys are up and dressed and their mama is up and dressed, which means that surely somewhere a pig is flying around. Wacey is itching to get going since he’s been excited to brand calves since yesterday, and the car is loaded with everything we need to occupy a two-year-old and take care of a baby while we’re branding, which amounts to lots of snacks and toys, pumped milk, formula, and multiple changes of clothes. I used to think it would be a snap to go to work when I didn’t have to get up super early to catch and saddle a horse and go out and gather cattle, but boy was a wrong. It takes us twice as long to get out of the house, I swear. I retrospect, being in charge of just myself and a horse was lovely–I can grab a granola bar and be good for a long time, and I’m fully potty-trained. Horses handily eat wherever they end up, and pee on the go. I mean, babies do too, but horses don’t require you to change a diaper or run up to you with a stinkbomb in their jeans for you to change.

diaper bag
car selfie7:20 am We’re off! We have car breakfast on mornings where we need to be somewhere early–milk and cereal bars for Wacey, milk and BelVita biscuits, cereal, or a protein bar for me. This morning we’re so early that we decide to head into town (close to the set of pens we’re using to brand that day) to get donuts for the crew and a coffee for me!

pumping8:30 am I’m not sure what was in the water yesterday, but we were early to everything! So, while the guys finished penning the cattle and sorting the calves, I used my handy dandy car adapter to pump again.

pumping view
donuts8:45 am Time for breakfast! Wacey is a donut fiend, and I mean for reals, so this had to happen before anything else. He eats while I get my things in order, feed Buster, and put him in the wrap.

buster wrap
wacey watching ropers
9:00 am Branding is in full swing and our biggest little cowboy is making sure everyone is getting their work done. He’s a great supervisor because he doesn’t mind if you take snack breaks, so long as you share with him.

bert roping10:30 am Watching Bert rope calves is our favorite.

hello cows11:00 am We’re still going strong, but Wacey’s attention and good mood is starting to flag since he woke up earlier than usual. He decides to pay the cows a visit and see what’s happenin’.

truck bath11:30 am Law and order has broken down, Wacey’s attention is officially off the branding proceedings, and he has decided that his pickup needs a wash. I have decided to pray that he doesn’t get something gross from the inevitable slurp of water tank water.

way home
12:30 Branding is over, clothes are changed, Buster is fed, we’re only wearing half an acre’s worth of dirt on our faces, and we are getting the heck outta Dodge. Usually we stay and have lunch with the crew, but my spidey senses are tingling and telling me that a meltdown is imminent–it’s about to be past Wacey’s usual naptime, and he’s t.i.r.e.d, and pretty darn hungry, but not in a way that would be conducive to sitting in a diner. Plus, the rain was about to roll in. I, of course, am pumping again at this point, and inhaling a protein bar.

rain
swing1:30 pm After an enormous lunch for Wace, and a little more food for Buster, both boys are down for their naps. Victory! I get to each lunch alone, which is a BFD, and start a load of very dusty wash.

book
2:00 pm It’s time to work! I had 150 calves that were waiting to be entered into the book and database.

coworker2:30 pm Buster’s having a hard time settling down, so I bring him to come and lay near me while I work.

still working4:30 pm I work and check emails (and pump, and eat–are you sensing a theme here??) pretty steadily until the end of naptime. I love getting work done in a quiet house–it’s amazing how productive mamas can be when their attention isn’t divided twelve ways haha.

bucket5:00 pm We have some post-nap, pre-dinner shenanigans that involve me spying on Wacey while he plays “46511322475 Things To Do With A Bucket.”

dinner6:00 pm Dinnertime! Dinner was homemade meatballs and spaghetti with Texas Toast–perfect stick-to-your-ribs food for the end of a long day.

After dinner, bath and bed for both boys, with us following not too long after because the caption to a Norman Rockwell painting of us after 7 pm would be captioned “Tired AF”. Half-joking about how lame we were (but proud of it), Bert said “What if the cows get out or something and someone comes to the door and we’re in bed at 8:30?” Me:

let them come
you shall not pass
GWTW
Hey, at least I’m honest. In all seriousness, if the cows had been out, we’d have put them up, but we wouldn’t have enjoyed it and I would have given them the stink eye in the morning.

Now. It’s past my bedtime, and we get to get up early early and haul our butts down to the barn to breed some cows, so we’re just going to end this here. Which makes sense, because after the “We’re lame for going to bed at 8:30” discussion, we went to bed at 8:30.

 

On The Ranch · Wacey

Branding with a Toddler

Happy Monday, and happy post-Easter sugar coma recovery! We spent the weekend relaxing, hunting eggs, and having fun with cousins, and now we’re all shaking our sugar sillies out and soaking in the sun and green grass.

Green grass means spring, and on ranches all over the country, spring means it’s branding season, as you probably know by now considering I’m sort of in love with branding time and don’t care who knows it!

Some ranches have one or two big brandings, or a whole month where they do nothing but brand. We brand in about ten small groups of 80-120 because we need to keep the cows in manageable groups for AI and it works better for us to keep them separate. So, one or two mornings a week you’ll find the whole outfit at one of the camps branding calves. This includes our littlest cowboys, too, and I get lots of questions about what I do with the boys while we’re branding since there are horses, calves, vaccine guns, ropes, branding irons, and the branding fire, and absolutely none of these things are toddler friendly.

Until this year, Wacey was confined either in my Solly wrap (when he was a baby baby) or my Ergo carrier (when he was bigger), or strapped into his stroller in the branding pen. I’ve also seen people used Pack N’ Plays for this purpose too–Wace didn’t care for that but I’ll try it again with Buster because I like the idea that they can have a little freer movement happening. We have a running joke that all of the ranch horses can be advertised as “stroller broke” should they ever be in a sale since they’re around the strollers so much!

stroller broke

ergosolly tuckered out

Since he’s bigger and more mindful of things (and of us) than he was last year, our Biggest Little Cowboy has been allowed to “help” this time around, and he really, really enjoys himself. Buster is, of course, not allowed to join in on the festivities in any other capacity than being strapped to my person in the Solly, which he prefers since he sleeps the whole time. If the weather sucks or it’s too windy, I’ll put Buster in the backseat of the pickup with the windows cracked and let him snooze. He prefers this scenario to being blown around and getting dust in his eyes, and it’s easy to check on him since the pickup is right there in the pen.

Even though Wacey loves helping, he’s still a toddler, and thus has about a five-minute attention span and an insatiable need for snacks. After three brandings so far, here’s what seems to work for us.

A pen and notepad. My responsibility at brandings since I seem to be perpetually kangarooing a tiny human consists of making a list of the calves we brand to keep our breeding sets and inventory straight. Wacey likes to follow me around with his record-keeping supplies and write his own notes. Bonus if he gets to use a pen that’s typically off-limits, like one of Bert’s ballpoint pens (off-limits due to his inexorable desire to draw on my leather sofas, both of which are currently sporting some WJJ original artwork).

notes

Snacks. I bring lots of snacks, including a little tupperware with some mini m&ms–those things will buy you lots and lots of time. He spent a half hour at one branding last week burying the m&ms in the dirt and then uncovering them and eating them. Rinse and repeat! #immunesystemsupport (right?)

dirt

Cups and bowls and other things to put dirt in. Playing in the dirt is always a big time, so I keep plastic containers (Take n’ Toss cups, tupperware, ets) handy so he can have a little dirt-scooping sesh in between helping daddy. This is also helpful in pens where he can’t be in the middle of things because there’s not enough room and he needs to be occupied in another pen or behind the fence.

playpen

Gates. When all else fails, or Wacey needs to be completely out of the way, I stick him in the nearest alley and watch him while he opens and closes gates!

gates

Dad. Bert lets him help him wrestle calves or give shots when he can, which basically consists of Wacey running around behind Bert yelling “Moooooooooo!!! Dada! Moooo!”

wrestling

The big, major disclaimer here is that one of us (or another responsible adult) is always with him, or he’s tucked safely out of the way. All the guys are always on the lookout for him, and we would not allow him to be loose like he is without the crew being on board. The guys are really good about being patient if he wants to help, or letting me know if they’re on an inexperienced horse so we can take a little more care to keep the boys safe while that horse is in the branding pen. It truly takes a village (or a ranch!). It also helps that Wacey lives for this stuff–he knows that he won’t be allowed to participate if he doesn’t mind us, and that’s the worst-case scenario for him. It’s also nice that we brand in the mornings when everyone is fresh and not overtired and it’s isn’t too hot. That helps keep us off the Overtired Struggle Bus, which is a super fun place to be when you throw in all the branding chaos and the mid-afternoon “Why aren’t adult naps a thing” slump.

Basically, we try to make branding pens as fun and safe for the littles as we can, while planning for complete meltdowns, bad weather, the dreaded Hangries, and the other livestock-related variables, while praying that everything goes off without a hitch.

Sometimes it’s a major success, and sometimes it’s a disaster, but it’s always a good time. Also, I am 100% convinced that there is nothing cuter than babies in cowboy hats, so that helps.

 

 

Buster · Family · On The Ranch · Wacey

First Branding of the Season

Saturday morning I loaded up the boys for the maiden voyage of the double stroller and we moseyed on down to the barn to brand our first set of calves! It was Wacey’s first year to get to “help” (in past years he’s been strapped to me in a carrier or in his stroller) and he had an absolute ball.  In between M&M breaks, he helped me take down numbers on his own notepad, and helped his daddy wrestle calves.

Buster spent the morning snoozing in my Solly wrap, which has occurred so often with Wace and now Buster that it’s a ranch joke that my kids could sleep through Armageddon. I don’t know if it’s the wrap, or genetics, or a combination of both, but the ability of both my boys to nap through the din of branding with cows and calves bawling, everyone talking and carrying on, horses snorting is absolutely uncanny. I love it, though. They get to snooze, I get to work, and we’re all happy!

Branding season is one of my favorite times. The first (and last, haha) ones are always kind of festive, and Saturday was no exception. We had the whole crew there, plus some neighbors, and a delicious brisket lunch in the barn. It was warm, but not hot, and not windy, so it was a lovely morning and a great start to the spring season.

I can already tell that ranch life with two boys is going to be so fun. Messy, sticky, hilarious fun. It’s also going to keep me on my toes–Wacey has no fear when it comes to calves and horses, so the minute he’s allowed to be horseback by himself we are in for some wild west adventures, let me tell you.

PS–doesn’t that little cowboy hat just kill you?! He’s starting to insist upon wearing it almost all the time, including with pajamas.

maiden voyage of the BOBwrestling calves 2mmswrestling calvessolly

Happy Monday! I’ve got a mountain of work (and laundry) to get done this week, which I’ll be doing in between wrangling babes, sweeping the floor that is now apparently applying for the position of Wacey’s Second Sandbox, and pumping. #momlife.

Speaking of #momlife, get thee to the nearest place wherest thou gets thine audiobooks (that was weird, remind me no more Olde English), and get Jim Gaffigan’s Dad Is Fat. SO GOOD.