Tag Archives: branding




Up early, awaiting
confirmation of the storm
slated to rain out plans
to brand calves
without complaining,

                    feeding hay
                    on slick roads
                    to thin cows
                    as grass grows
                    against the cold
                    Winter Solstice.

Nothing on the news
but red and blue politics,
mass shootings
and fog on 99,
ads for fast foods,
wonder drugs
and old age—
not one damn thing
I want. Nothing

                    I can change
                    but feed more hay
                    to hungry souls.


Wooly Canyon 2019



Another bunch of calves branded for Ken & Virginia McKee in Wooly Canyon yesterday, the culmination of a 4-day gather of tough country by younger men than I, all good hands on good horses with good dogs. Much has changed since I first branded my own calves in 1968. Gooseneck trailers have replaced bob-tailed trucks, pipe instead of board pens, women in the branding pen, but the ground remains pretty much the same.

Robbin, Bob, Terri and I went to help our dear friends and neighbors get their calves marked as we’ve done for years. It’s a 45-minute drive up Dry Creek Road to the Mountain House and curvy decline down 245 to the corrals, a green, E-ticket ride of crimson redbud blooming and piles of wildflowers spilled like gold coins around every turn in road as the sun breaches the ridgelines—almost a fantasy.

And was I relieved to see them parting cows from calves when we arrived thirty minutes earlier than normal, but mostly to know I’d be in the branding pen with cowboys I’ve watched mature into cowmen with talents with a rope I strived for, but never quite attained, to watch my back. The cattle culture in this part of Tulare County is in good hands.





The tourists came
from Germany,
parked outside the pen

along the road,
brought cameras
and watched us

head and heel,
stretch and throw,
cut and vaccinate,

burn a brand
in a swirl of smoke.
We held our breath,

exchanged languages,
said goodbye
in pleasant tones

we understood
as universal
between bunches.


Craig Ainley Branding


Terri Drewry photo


There’s a lot to be said about not knowing when you were born. But I just checked Toby’s papers to find that this Montana Doc son was born in 1994—me 1948.

I tried every way possible to wriggle out of helping Craig Ainley brand his 4-5 weight Wagyu X calves at Mankins Flat, an hour’s 4-wheel drive from the asphalt to patched board corrals. I reasoned that the calves might be too big, too much work for old men in muddy pens. But we owed him for his help branding our own calves, and with all our other neighbors busy helping one another brand on the few days between rains, and he short-handed, I had no choice, no lame excuse for horse or me.

Craig wanted our whole crew, Robbin, Terri, Allie, Bob and me. Terri Drewry and I roped with Garth and Audrey Maze, Corrine Ainely Manes and Donnie Castle, finishing up an hour before the forecast 2” storm while wind gusts lifted snow off the Great Western Divide, the Kaweah Peaks and Sawtooth, seemingly a stone’s throw across the North Fork—a fun and beautiful, overcast day!

Shoulders sore, the old men recuperated while it rained.





Believe it or not, there are thirteen, or parts of thirteen, people in this photograph taken at Jody Fuller’s branding on December 15th—two calves are down. One of the things that has changed dramatically since I was a boy about the size of the two, (can you find them?) in the photo, is the processing at branding when the only vaccination we gave back then was a two-way clostridial. Everyone in this photo has a job.

The youngest boy with the purple glove has the pine tar to apply to the area of castration, the other has a syringe of Enforce 3 to apply in each nostril. Their mother, outside the pen, is keeping track of tag numbers (yes, there’s a tagger) and the sexes of the calves. Additionally, modified live vaccines to ward of respiratory illnesses and a broad spectrum of clostridial illnesses are given to each calf, plus a separate dewormer. Jody also gives her calves an injection of vitamins.

Because of the concern for antibiotics in beef, vaccines have been developed to limit the necessity for antibiotics in feedlots, essentially placing that responsibility, and cost, on the producer. The media is currently focused on the residue of antibiotics in most all the major hamburger outlets—old cows and bulls. A very small percentage of BEEF cows and bulls ever get an injection of antibiotics.

As neighbors, most of us are used to working together as we brand one another’s calves, but I think it’s remarkable that the job goes so smoothly, especially with two, unpredictable live calves on the ground.


Greasy Branding 1



Though we weaned our calves last spring in these pipe pens, we branded our first bunch of calves here yesterday. Earl McKee began construction nearly 20 years ago, and only with my sister’s help could we finish the job. In the upper pen, it feels as if we’re working on top of the world. With the camera on the table, multiple photo credits go to Audrey Maze, Allie Fry, Terri Blanke, Maggie Loverin and Robbin.





To make the handling process easier on the calves, we incorporated a head pen.










Frozen in the folds of time:
blue smoke, oak flames,
gathered neighbors fed
when the work was done.

For 90 years, Cutlers drove cattle
to Rowell Meadow until 1953—
everybody came for my mother’s
father’s whiskey, meat and beans.

To get along, we will forgive
our ill-behavior, overlook
our extravagances, but sadly
we will forget who we were.





It’s a dance—
concentrate and relax,
guide the feel

of your horse
with your legs, find
the feel of your rope

at your fingertips
swing in rhythm
with the calf.

Like everything else,
it’s a dance—just
concentrate and relax.


Fuller Branding, Dry Creek – December 15, 2018





Down the mountain, down
the four-wheel drive dirt track
to the asphalt that connects us

to home and families,
to basic urgencies far away
lost in time and space

beyond the whine of twine
around the heels of calves
stretched for branding—

when and where we are gods
for a moment, immune
to the insanities

of a civilized world.
All the old men gone
still lean against the boards.

I find my place among them,
whoop and illuminate
color with details,

hoping to see myself once more
stepping to the untamed rhythm
of heaven’s hoof dance.



Paregien Branding 2018





While waiting for the irons get hot, the first brandings of the season are like social events, a community of neighbors catching up with one another, great help from the first calf to the last. Thank you all.