Tag Archives: branding

Somewhere the Sun

 

 

On the edge of fog, we’ve been gathering Greasy to brand Thursday, while the forecast for rain varies from from a few hundredths to a quarter-inch from a half-dozen Internet weather sites. Above the fog, we shed all the jackets it took to get there, a true inversion layer. Time to fish or cut bait.

 

Brandon Branding

 

 

As of one of two old men among some good young cowboys at Tony Rabb’s branding yesterday, the importance of bringing young men along was self-evident. Schooled at home before the branding pen, a young man must ride, rope, roll a calf, dally, slide slack and stay out of trouble. This was Brandon Huntington’s first branding on New Year’s Day and he managed to do it all!

 

Branding: Paregien Ranch 2019

 

 

Despite local forecasts for rain, we made the trek up the hill with our neighbors to brand our first bunch of calves for the season. Over the years here, we’ve dealt with fog, rain and snow, but yesterday the sun broke through the gray to complete a beautiful day.

 

 

Additional hazards are these two Blue Oaks that Effie Hilliard incorporated when she built these corrals many decades ago, one of which is now a casualty of our 4-year drought. Though we’ve threatened to remove them, consensus has been that they remain.

 

 

Though we see one another individually throughout the year, the first branding of the year is always a special get-together for all of us.

 

 

One of the benefits of trading labor is that everyone knows how we want the job done, whether a horseback or on the ground. You just can’t hire any better help than our neighbors.

 

 

And one of the drawbacks, as we age, is that some of us have now outlived our horses. Finding a replacement gentle and trustworthy enough for old men is not easy, but Tony Rabb brought a young buckskin mare to the branding pen for the first time with impressive success. Robbin and I thank everyone for helping us get the job done.

 

HOMER COVE 2019

 

 

How I crave the feel
                    of an old soft rope
                    in my hand,
                    spoke-balance loop
                    like an open mouth
                    hungry for heels
in the branding pen.

                    Fifty years
                    I’ve marked calves
                    on this spot,

                                        chicken-coop corrals:
                                        bog in the gate
                                        that Giz built:
                                                            hog wire stapled
                                                            over a 2 x 6 rectangle
                                                            I drug through the mud—
                                        replaced and almost forgotten.

It’s hard to let go:

                    same horseback look
                    south down-canyon,
                    creek meandering a bowl
                    of fresh green feed,

                    safe and apart
                    from a hazy world
                    beyond the narrows—

the feel of my rope
among neighbors
roping calves around a fire—

reliving a dream
on a borrowed horse.

 

WEATHER REPORT

 

 

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.

 

ALONG THE ROAD

 

 

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.

 

THAT TIME OF YEAR

 

 

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.