Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Roundup- Ranches Branding From Montana to Kansas (and some in between)

We aren't the only ones busy branding this time of year.  And I'm not the only one blogging about it (although with my number of posts over the last few weeks you might think I own the corner on it!).  Its always fun for me to see how others ranches do it and the pictures that they put up.  And I love reading the histories of branding that they write.  Do you check them out?

Its ok if you don't, because I grabbed a healthy handful of the ones I found lately.  You should read them!

Some of these have great photos, others have great descriptions of how they brand.  Two are posts from people that don't normally brand, and its interesting to hear their take on it all!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Many Irons in the Fire

Having 760 cows means that we have to find places for all of them, which means that we have groups spread out on the range.  Some of them are on our own private ground but a good majority of them run with other ranches on the Association rangeland.  And that means that when we go branding we have EVERYONE's cattle to brand!

The upside to this is that we have plenty of help to brand our calves, but that comes with the price of going out every weekend to brand (but that's a price we are so happy to pay).  It takes a LOT of time to get so many calves branded! 

The group that we run with has 7 different brands in the fire!  With so many different operations running together, we want to make sure that we get it right on branding day.  The ropers are limited to the ranch owners or other cowboy they designate.  The ropers have to be good at finding a mothered up pairs and recognizing which brand it will need.  Talk about pressure!

Not only do we need to make sure we get the right brand on the right calf, but each operation has its own vaccines and marks to do.  Each ranch sets up their branding station and is responsible for doing their own ground work.  If you want a job done right, I guess you do it yourself, right?  Actually there are a lot of the men that have run together for YEARs and YEARS that would do a fine job of doing work on each others cattle.  But for the sake of not confusing the help, we don't do too much crossover.

Since we are trying to get as many done as possible we don't use the Nord forks.  The time a roper would be tied up is time that he could be roping, which is precious.  So they drag in their calf, the ground crew pounces and mugs the calf.  They slide the rope off to send the roper back to rope and then they get to work.

When you write it out and explain it, it sounds crazy and a lot of work.  But after doing it for so long, its amazing how you just know what to do! 



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Almost as Good as a Photo Shoot

I love taking pictures on the ranch- that's why I have this blog.  And branding time is one of my FAVORITE times to take pictures.  The gathering, roping, riding, and fun times together are just too awesome to not capture.  In fact, last weekend I took like 1,400 pictures!  Its almost like having my own cowboy photo shoot!

A lot of the pictures were duplicates (which have been deleted...) because I set my camera to burst mode to make sure that I don't miss a thing.  And some don't turn out, so its not like I have 1,400 picture to share.  But I do have a lot!  You've been warned, there are a lot of photos here... (like more than a hundred...)

Click "Read More" for the rest of the pictures!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Days of Branding: Castrating Bulls to Steers

Branding day really is a big day for some of these calves, especially the bulls.  The poor fellas especially have a big change...  I kinda feel bad for them- glad I'm not destined to be a steer.

You might not think it, but castrating is an important part of our operation of producing the best beef possible.  How are a pair of cahonees related to a yummy hamburger?  I'm glad you asked!  I'll tell you!

Testosterone is produced in the testes (duh, I know... have to start somewhere).  And although testosterone helps calves grow fast, this is at the cost of a lot of energy.  I don 't just mean a lot of energy to help them grow (we are totally for growing) but I mean a lot of energy to first develop testes and then produce the testosterone.  In a castrated calf, more energy is put towards more marbling fat- the fat that gives meat its flavor and tenderness.

Besides castrating to make a better product, we also castrate for management sake.  With testosterone comes aggression (again, duh... I know...) and aggressive cattle make for more work.  On a ranch there is ALWAYS something to be done and anything we can do to ease our load is so worth it.  Its also make sure that as the calves develop that they don't get overly zealous in starting the next generation of calves- we don't want babies pregnant with babies!

We castrate in two ways.  Actually "we" only castrate in one way, then those boys do another...  The first is using an elastrator.  I mentioned this when we talked about tagging.  There is a stretchy ring that we stretch around the testes that will eventually cut them off.  This works best for young calves that haven't developed as much.  The other method is surgically cutting them- a little more intense (I'm not a wimp, I promise...). 

Castrating is stressful for a calf, and stressful times can cause calves to get sick or lose weight.  They will bounce back a lot better when they are younger and pick up on that weight gain faster.  There have been studies that found that in the end, a calf that is castrated younger will be heavier when it is harvested versus a calf that was castrated at weaning time.  Who knew!

Maybe this is more than what you wanted to know, but its a few fun facts about ranch life and what we do to make the best product we can!

PS- We had to document this first time of castrating- talk about getting in there with two hands!  Way to go girl!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Days of Branding: Marking the calves

Part of our branding routine includes, marking our calves.  Running our cattle with so many others means we need easy ways to identify which is ours.  We use tags, but sometimes tags fall out.  And we use brands, but we can only see them when we are up close. So we have 'nother other (in the words of The Rancher's Sidekick) way to identify them.

The first is marking the ears.  Calves naturally have a really full ear that can be easily seen.  This makes for a great place to mark.  Some notch out the ears, some do a split.  We trim down the ear making for pointy, less full ears.

I have to tell you something... I'm not a fan of marking the ears.  They look like a bat or something... But I do like how easy it is to pick up a pair of binoculars and spot those pointy little ears!

The second marking we make is a waddle.  A neck waddle.  I'm sure that we call it a waddle because is waddles to-and-fro...  To make a waddle, we cut a flap of skin back off of the neck.  When it heals what we have left is a wiggling bit of skin hanging from the neck.  We only waddle the heifers since we will keep them as replacement heifers down the road while we sell the steers.  No reason to waddle a calf that won't need it!

Once again, NOT a fan of the extra wiggling, unattached waddle... but it makes it SUPER easy to identify our cattle!

Its important that these marks are done right.  We don't want too big of a slice taken from the ears or too big of a cut on the neck.  We want as little stress on the calves as possible (because they have ALREADY had stress).  So we let The Rancher and Rancher Sr. do it for the most part.  Its a good job for them...


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Days of Branding: Why we brand

Branding can be a touchy subject when we talk with some people outside the ranching world.  It can seem like a harsh or cruel thing to do.  So why do we still brand?

The best answer is because it is required by law.  A brand is a rancher's signature, saying which ranch these cattle belong to.  Its nice to know which ranch to call when the cows get out, but its more important to know when its time for those cattle to be harvested.

If a cow were to go in without a brand, there is no way to know who that cow belonged to, where it was, what other animals it was running with, and what region it was in.  Its important to know this because we want to be VERY sure that there is nothing wrong with the meat. We don't want to spread disease or sell contaminated beef.  Ya, that's a good reason to brand...

When cattle are sold, cross state lines, or head to be harvested they must be checked over by a brand inspector.  This makes a record or a paper trail of where and when the cattle come and go. 

But even if we didn't HAVE to brand, we still would.  I don't know that there is any method out there that is as effective and efficient at marking our cattle as our own.  Yes, it is stressful for the calves.  It is probably painful and I really feel bad about that.  But until someone finds a method of marking that can't be altered, we gotta stick to branding.  Did you know that cattle rustling is still prevalent today?  (and in the state of Idaho it is still punishable by hanging!). Too many of the ways to mark cattle can be changed and someone else can claim them. 

So we brand our calves.  We do it so we can track our cattle so we can put out the best product possible!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Days of Branding: How we do it

You really should come spend a day branding with us.  You could almost pick any weekend and we would be going out.  Most days we brand the association cattle.  We have 7 ranches worth of cattle together on the range, which means a lot calves!  But more about branding with the association another day.

The day that you want to brand with us is when we do our cattle on the Peterson Place.  We have about 350 cows to sort through and brand.  We start in the morning gathering the cattle from the north. This year we did it in the rain, and what started out as a refreshing little shower turned into a soaker (be glad I didn't tell you to come until AFTER the rainy year). 

We sort the cows out (but we leave a few... the babies are happier with a momma around) and then start to work.  Actually this year, we had to wait a while before we could start- blame the rain! 

But eventually we got to work.  The ropers rope (obviously) and drag the calves to the "fire" where the ground crew is set up.  The calves are caught and held with Nord Forks.  Don't know what they are?  (neither did I until I started branding with The Rancher). The are a handy tool that is staked into the ground and has a fork like head catch.  It slips on the calf's neck and catches at the base of the head.

The forks make for an easy way to hold the calves while we mark, castrate, vaccinate, tag, and brand the calves.  Its a lot to do, so we need some one to run the shots, guys to do the castrating, others to brand and the top dogs mark and tag.  Once we hit our groove we just roll on through them.  Before we know it, the calves are branded and the dinner bells is a-ringin'!


And then we start over.

We gather in the bunch from the south.  Then sort (and no waiting!), rope, drag... you know how it goes!