We have asked Ruth Budd to give us
a new twist to brandings. She and her husband Joe had the first registered
purebred herefords in this area.
The brandings were a drastic change from the ordinary ranch branding. Several days before the event the breeding records were sorted and an ear tattoo was given to each calf; at first this number indicated sire, dam and year of birth. The herd was gathered into a corral and the process began. First the cow and calf had to be positively paired and the mother identified by a horn brand. If the horn brand couldn't be read, the cow had to be roped and her tattoo read. Then the calf was caught and the bookkeeper identified the given tattoo number, the machine was set to this number, and the calf tattooed. Then the rest of the usual branding procedure was done; branding, one brand for heifers and a different one for bulls, vaccination, those with unusual markings or for some other reason were to be culled were dehorned, branded, earmarked, castrated; all done under the direct supervision of the bookkeeper, who was usually Ruth. The calf wrestlers were very impatient because this process usually took 15 to 20 minutes and only one calf at a time could be processed to eliminate the possibility of a mistake. When this process was completed the calf was turned loose, once again the calf was paired with his mother and the pair cut out of the herd to the correct pasture where the bull was that she was to be bred to that year, again under the direction of Ruth, the bookkeeper. As you can imagine this was a very slow, tedious, time-consuming process, expecially to those who were accustomed to the commercial ranch brandings. At the end of the day everyone was tired, restless and tempers were very, very short.
This was a family affair in those early years. The Tanner family, (Francis, Helen, and the 3 boys), and the Budd family, (Joe, Ruth and the 3 girls), made up the crew. At first these brandings were held on Sundays, when the rest of the crew was off. Only the family was asked to endure these early "Purebred Brandings."
In later years, as the herd got larger and as we "progressed" to higher technology, we began using a branding table. With this process, we would first run the cows through the chute and sort them into temporary pens set up for the occasion. The pens were marked as to what bull the cow would be bred to the next year. Then the calves would be run through, branded, tattooed, etc. and put into the pen with their mothers-hopefully (if the bookkeeper had been accurate and the gate keepers had been paying attention). Then each group of cows and calves had to be moved to their respective pastures. This process often went into the night, and every man, woman and child was called into service. It was a long, grueling day, but usually ended with a good meal, a few beers, and a laugh or two over things that had gone wrong during the day.
When I asked my Mother what she remembered
through the years as women's role in a typical branding day she replied
most emphatically and without hesitation, "Cooking!" She told me
that in the earlier years of her ranch experience, the women seldom took
part in the branding itself, and it was not that they weren't capable,
or didn't want to, or were not accustomed to doing any of the outside manual
labor. It was simply a matter of practicality. The branding
crew was large, including all of the regular hired men and also many of
the relatives from town and neighbors with whom work was exchanged.
Somebody had to feed these guys! And guess who that would be.
We must remember that without the help of all of our modern conveniences
such as large refrigerators, freezers, microwaves and the other machines
which do our work for us, that putting together a hearty meal for a large
crew was a full-time task. So for a day or two before the branding
ever took place, most early ranch women were very busy preparing the meal
which would be so eagerly consumed when the branding was complete.
Mother does remember that the women would be asked to help gather the cattle
in the morning and then they scurried back to the house to get on with
preparing the meal.
As the years went by there were many changes, at our place at least. Perhaps it was a little women's "liberation" creeping in, or perhaps it had more to do with the fact that our family had three girls, no boys, and it became accepted that girls worked outside on a regular basis. Whichever the case, our branding crews became coed. Eager young girls were just as likely to be calf wrestlers as boys, limited only by their wishes. Young ranch girls, armed with the know how of how to throw a calf down, often took great delight of slamming a calf to the ground while a greenhorn from town watched in awe. Often the teenagers recruited would trade off and make it a fun, social affair, with lots of good natured joshing and laughter going on throughout. The older ladies would do pretty much whatever they desired. They could vaccinate, earmark, some would be asked to brand and some would be asked to rope. And what about the meal that was soon to be devoured? Well, thanks to the freezer, time bake ovens, microwaves, and a few of the women who simply didn't want to be at the branding, everything could be accomplished.
My memories of our ranch brandings are warm ones. As
a child I remember watching men like my Grandpa and Bill Budd rope and
admiring their skills so much. I watched my dad very expertly organize
a branding crew, giving explicit instructions to everyone and giving each
person a responsibility. As I grew up, I remember how proud I was
the first time my dad told me to bring my horse in the pen for I would
be roping that day! Later, I watched as my husband became the one
in charge of organizing all of those town kids and making them realize
that each one of them had a very important part in the days proceedings
and that they must take it seriously. And I watched proudly and critically
as my sons went through the ranks of calf wrestlers, ropers, etc.
Oh yes, there's a lot more to a branding than just getting a brand put on the side of a calf. The calves must be vaccinated against diseases, implanted for extra growth, earmarked, dehorned and castrated. The bosses worry that each job is done correctly, without harm to the calf, and they worry about the possibility of an accident, such as someone getting tangled up with the calf and rope, causing injury. They keep a constant eye on the fire, the ropers, the way the brands are going on, whether the calves are bleeding too much and if there are any sick ones showing up. It's a pretty high-stress day for them. All the while, there are little mini-dramas going on behind the scenes. The children are watching, learning, wondering if they dare ask to wrestle a calf. The teenagers are contesting each other, showing their strength and expertise wrestling the calves. Young people are growing into men and women and taking pride in what they are asked to do each year. And there is a sense of comaraderie among the people who share this experience year after year, and fun, and a feeling of accomplishment and reward when it's done, and done well.