Posts Tagged ‘branding’

I am pretty sure this post will show up as having been posted a day late but actually it is still Mother’s Day where I am so HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!  I didn’t get to see any of my kids today but they did call and wish me a happy day anyway so life is good.

I have been running so fast and furious for so long that I don’t even know where to start so let’s see what’s on the camera. 

We are still buying yearlings so we have a new batch to brand at least once a week.

Two weeks ago I went to the Wyoming Master Gardener Conference in Gillette, WY where I learned how to build a snazzy hoop house and how to make Strawberry-Basil ice cream.  I also learned a bunch of stuff about native plants and even more about poisonous plants and fairy gardens.  It was great!

I even hitched up Nadine, my camper and pulled her over to Gillette to sleep in.  Of course since this conference was in Wyoming – in April – it rained and snowed every blessed day and the wind blew like crazy.  

It was 80 degrees and beautiful the week before – go figure. 

Anyway it wasn’t a total bust – I did discover a few things about Nadine – she has a leak above her front window so one corner of the bed was a little soggy.  I’m pretty sure she has no insulation in her walls.  The jack on the front of her hitch is broke (thank goodness for Handy Man jacks) and the furnace still doesn’t work but thankfully, I had packed a small electric heater that warmed her up in about 15 minutes so it wasn’t too bad even though it was 30 degrees outside.  

Nadine also doesn’t have a very secure lock on her door so being the ‘ready for anything, Boy Scout Mama’ that I am, I fashioned a dead bolt for her door once I got to the campground. 

You can’t be too carefull!

One Handy Man Jack plus one load binder and you too can have your very own Redneck Dead Bolt.  Perhaps I should patent it.   There was no way anyone was going to break in and surprise me in the middle of the night!  At least not without having to tear the door knob completely out of the door.  My Dad said I could have also used the removable handle to beat an attacker senseless if needed.  Yes, my beloved Handy Man Jack – the all around survival and self-defense device of every ranch wife.

My husband thinks I’m nuts…

Last weekend I went to a Quilting Retreat at Outlaw Bible Ranch just outside of Custer, SD.  Nadine stayed home and I stayed at my parents house which was much warmer and drier.   My baby, Morgan had requested a Crown Royal quilt made from the purple flannel bags the whiskey comes in so this is what I made while I was there…  at a Bible camp…  with 40 good God-fearing Church women…  I made a quilt out of whiskey bags. 

 I am so going to Hell!

That’s me at show and tell.  I really didn’t envision this quilt ending up like this – a little wild and crazy.  It just kind of took on a life of its own.  I have titled my latest artistic endeavor ‘Morgan’s Drunken Trip Around the World’.   He loves it.  Everyone wanted to know who had to drink all that Crown Royal for the quilt (I cut up 87 bags) I just told them I love my children so much that I will do anything for them even drink 87 bottles of whiskey!  Ha!  Don’t think so – actually Morgan’s buddy Brandon has a step mom who owns a bar.  Sweet…

Last but not least, today I finally built the railing for the front steps. 

We have absolutely no idea what those cool metal wheels are off of but Morgan found them in the iron pile and he brought them to me.  I really love that kid!

Levi (the dog) and Franklin (the rooster who lives on the porch) supervised the whole operation so you know it was done right.  Franklin is very picky when it comes to the details.  They were very impressed by my carpentry skills.  Can you tell?

Other than that it’s been work and lots of gardening.

But I did take time to come up with a ‘top ten’ list for Mother’s Day and all you Ranch Moms out there so here goes,

You might be a Ranch Mom if:

1.  Mother’s Day is spent in the corral – dehorning, branding, de-lousing, doctoring, vaccinating and castrating.

2.  You go to the bathroom and while you’re there you carry on a one-sided conversation with the bum calf, chicks, lamb or baby pigs that are temporarily living in the bathtub till the weather warms up.

3.  You receive gifts such as chain saws, post-hole diggers, back hoes, dump trucks, a milk cow or a load of well-rotted manure and you are thrilled!!!

4.  The bum calf, chickens and every other critter on the place eats supper before you do.

5.  You work full-time at the ranch but also have an 8-to-5 job in town just so you can rest and heal up from the ranch work.

6.  You can back down and turn a charging cow with nothing but a kitchen broom in your hands and the crazed look in your eyes.

7.  You can imitate a cow lowing well enough to calm a scared calf.

8.  At least once you’ve lost both your boots and both socks to 1 foot of sucking gumbo mud before slipping and face planting yourself just to save your baby who is stranded in the center of the corral because he thought it would be fun to play in the mud.

9.  You’ve ever zipped your 2-year-old child inside the front of your Carhart coveralls so they could stay warm while you do chores.

And finally,

10.  You’ve raised more 4 legged babies than 2 legged ones in your life time.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Have you missed me?  I admit it – I have really missed my little blog for the last few weeks.  But tomorrow morning we will leave for the big city of Denver where fly off to the tropics early Tuesday morning.  I can’t wait.

I think I am finally ready to go.  The taxes are done, the bills are paid, the fridge is filled so Hubby won’t starve, my time in the tanning booth has started to show, and as of this morning the first batch of calves is branded, tagged, castrated and vaccinated.

Morgan, Dalton and Dani were all here to help.  It was a great day!  And I was sooooo happy to see everybody before I left – vacations are fun but family is everything!

For 2 months now I have been thinking and stockpiling everything I thought I would need to pack for the trip but then one day (mostly due to lack of sleep) I started thinking about all the things I wouldn’t need to take to the island and since that list was much more interesting I decided to share it here.

What I will not pack for the Island:

1.  I will not take the pickup.  There really shouldn’t be any need for a 4-wheel drive, 3/4 ton pickup with a set of tire chains under the back seat.  I really hope we will not need the ice scraper/snow sweeper, extra insulated gloves, socks, stocking caps, coveralls or scarves in the front seat or the tow ropes, jumper cables, diesel fuel additive, winter survival kit, extra food, water bottles, blankets, snow boots, scoop shovel or heat packs that ride around in the back seat all winter long.

2.  I will not take a parka, winter coat, fur coat (even if it is the ‘nice beaver’ as my sister says) or my Carhart coveralls.  I will sprint to the airport terminal in a raging blizzard if I have to, rather than carry a coat with me to the island.

3.  We shouldn’t need the heat gun to thaw out any water pipes or any heat tape to wrap around them to keep the water running.  I bet they rarely have that problem in Puerto Rico.
4.  I won’t pack the Nipco heater, heat lamps or electric dog dish – the calves, chicks and our dog and cats will probably need these here while I am gone.
5.  I don’t care how much she begs – Fat Alice will have to stay home!
She’s the big yellow one and is one of my favorite anniversary gifts (Dan is so damn romantic sometimes!!!).  Fat Alice will just have to stay home to feed the cattle and scoop the snow.  Sorry Alice.
6.  We shouldn’t need any hay bales either because I’m betting no one on the island of Puerto Rico has ever had to stack them around the foundation of their house to keep things from freezing.  For that matter, I bet no one has ever shrink-wrapped their windows with double-sided sticky tape, sheets of plastic and a hair dryer to stop the wind from blowing through and freezing the gold-fish in the bowl on the kitchen counter.  Don’t laugh – I know a guy in Custer who came home one evening to find that the furnace had died while he was at work.  He said it looked like the guppies in the aquarium were swimming in jello.
7.  I’m pretty sure I can leave our electric socks with their battery packs at home – the really nice ones that my sister gave all the girls working at the flower shop for Valentines’ Day one year?  We shouldn’t need these on the beach.  In fact I don’t believe the salt water would be good for them.
8.  I don’t think we’ll have to take any de-icer salt or kitty litter either.  If you don’t carry kitty litter in your car every winter and know how to use it you obviously haven’t lived in South Dakota long enough.
9.  We shouldn’t have to worry about wind chills, white-outs, snowflakes as big as horse turds or snow drifts for a few days.  And I would bet real money that there isn’t a single snow plow/sander truck on the entire island to watch out for.  I passed 5 snow plows, 3 road graders with v-plows, 2 Bobcat loaders and 27 pickups with blades just on the way home from work one night a couple of weeks ago.
10.  We shouldn’t need to take any electric blankets, down comforters, wool blankets, heated mattress pads or quilts – in fact, I wonder if there are even any quilters or quilt shops on the island.
11.  All those sexy (?) flannel nighties that reach from your chin to your toes with long sleeves and enough fabric to build a small circus tent can stay at home too along with the sheep-skin lined bedroom slippers, sweat pants and sweat shirts I often sleep in. 
12.  We shouldn’t need to take any snow packs, ice cleats, moon boots, rubbers, or 4 buckle overshoes unless of course you would like to wear them while snorkeling or wading in the tidal pools – the rubbers and overshoes might actually work pretty well for this but I’m still not going to pack them.
13.  And last but not least I absolutely, positively refuse to pack any wool socks, wool underwear, wool lined pants, wool vests, wool hats, wool gloves or even a wool sweater – I don’t care if it does have a sailboat knitted into the front of it!  The wool stays home!
 I’ll see you when I get home (if not before). 

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Saturday was the day.  The weather was beautiful, the neighbors, friends & family showed up and the signs were right with the universe – so we branded.  This was actually the 3rd branding of the season but this is the one I love – it’s when we brand the new babies and we get to see just how good they are doing. 

First we gathered the calves and cows.

We keep them in the small pasture near the house so we can keep a close eye on them as they are being born and it makes it easy to push them into the horse pasture and finally the corrals.

Here’s our boys bringing up the rear with the last cow and calf. 

Once we get them into the corral we sort the cows off of the calves and the bawling begins.  First we run the cows through the big chute where they got a couple of shots and some pour on insecticides to help control the bugs that annoy.  Then the moms are all right there and waiting when the babies get done.

And talk about babies here’s one really cute baby and her two big brothers.  A couple of the neighbors showed up to help.  This is Amy’s kids in their ‘ranch kid play pen’.  I tell you – we have nothing but the best for our kids – that’s probably a $40,000 Dodge play pen.   All the comforts of home and lots of good fresh air and sunshine.

Wade – Morgan’s truck-driving buddy showed up to help too.

“Where’s the clutch on this thing?”

John – the cowboy poet and all around nice guy showed up too and he brought his wife Ellen who is just the sweetest lady you ever want to meet.  She’s a tiny little thing but she don’t back down when it comes to calves that probably out weigh her by 50+ pounds.

I think she was even having fun.

And who’s this yahoo with the lime green gloves and the strange pair of pliers?

Yes, it’s me.  Looks like I’m ready to tackle a sink full of dirty dishes but actually I had the job of putting in the fly tags.  These are ear tags that will help keep the flies away from the calves.  The thing to remember with fly tags is you do not want to handle them without rubber gloves – it will make you sicker than a dog but on the bright side you would probably never need to worry about flies bothering you again.

Since I was trying to stay out-of-the-way most of the time this is the view I had of the calves on the calf table.

Nice…  hum, calf.

I did move out of my little corner by the table once in awhile and did get some better shots.

Dalton did the branding.

And Morgan did the cutting (castrating).  What can I say – some people just have the knack for it and Morgan is good.

And this little guy was watching our backs.  If any calf, cow or cowboy strayed close enough he was ready.  Just give him a couple more years and he’ll be right out there with the rest of them just like Dally who really, really wanted to help.

And here’s Dani on her favorite horse Taz.  What a great team.

When it comes to branding or just about any big job Grandma Winter’s advice rings true.

“Many hands make the work load light.”

What a great day!

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Spring is definately here and at this ranch that means it’s time to buy yearlings.


Yearlings are last years calves.  We buy them in the spring, fatten them up all summer and sell them in the fall once they have put on a bunch of weight.

Years ago we kept our calves through the winter and then sold them as yearlings but after several years of drought when we were not able to cut and bale the hay we normally would, we ended up having to buy hay.  Buying hay at $80 – $100 per ton is expensive so we had to adapt our operation.  Now we sell the calves in the fall and buy yearlings in the spring and it has worked pretty well.

The trick is to buy them skinny & cheap and sell them fat & expensive.  It’s the best way to sell the grass in our pastures.

Usually we get several loads of yearlings and they are always black or black (with) white-faces but this year we seem to be ending up with an odd assortment of colors and sizes.

Of course we have black Angus and black white-faced but we also have one that appears to have blood lines going back to a Holstein which is a dairy breed and even a couple that are Longhorn cross.

I’m thinking this will be an interesting summer.

Amongst this mixture we also have heifers (females who haven’t had a calf yet), steers (males that have been castrated) and even a few bulls (that after this weekend are now steers).  Sorry guys.

This is our propane branding stove.  It was built by Hubby and it works well to heat the irons.  It has even been used to brew a mean pot of cowboy coffee on occasion – and I do mean ‘MEAN’.  It is often said that a horseshoe has to be able to stand upright in the dark, murky brew before it can be considered cowboy coffee but I think it also has to be strong enough to dissolve the horseshoe – at least that’s how strong Hubby makes it.

We have at least 3 brandings every spring.  One for the yearlings and any cows and bulls we purchase that year, another for the new calves born that year and  usually one more small branding in early summer for any late calves that happen to show up ‘after the party’.

We have had branding days that were huge parties with lots of people and mountains of food but the ones I like best are the ones where just our family can handle it – maybe with the help of one or two neighbors who happen to show up and decide to stick around.  Saturday was one of those days.

We hadn’t planned on branding.  Silly me – I had mapped out a whole weekend full of stuff I needed to get done.  I was even planning on making it to a garden club meeting.  It’s been so long since I’ve been to one of those that I’m sure half the members have decided I must have left the country or passed on to the great garden in the sky.  Yep, I had stuff stacked on the kitchen table ready to go and a list a mile long of what I needed to do but at 10:30 Friday night our son, Dalton and his wife, Dani called.  They were headed our way and would be home in about an hour – that’s when the wheels in Hubby’s mind started spinning.  Morgan, our youngest son was already planning on being at the ranch Saturday and any rancher knows that when you have that much help show up you automatically start to think about what you can get done.  For us, it was an easy choice.  Last week we had hauled home the first two loads of yearlings.  They were in the corrals just waiting for a day dry enough to brand.

It didn’t matter that it has rained for 2 weeks straight or that the mud in the corrals is roughly deep enough to bury a sports car to its hood ornament in or that none of the kids knew we were going to put them to work.  No, what really mattered was whether or not the rain would stop long enough to let the yearlings hides dry out so we could get a good clear brand on them. 

Now I know some people are upset by the thought of branding livestock but since the beginning of ranching it has always been the best way to prove who owns what.  Don’t think that the days of cattle rustling are over – far from it.  I talk to people every day who have lost cattle to sticky fingered individuals and without a brand it’s very hard to identify an individual cow, calf or even bulls.  One couple I know came up short 12 pairs (cow and calf) on their summer pasture last year.  That adds up to over $25,000.00 worth of livestock missing and this is something you can’t buy insurance for.  Their cattle were branded but in eastern South Dakota the sale barns do not inspect brands so more than likely that’s where they ended up going.  Branding doesn’t stop all rustling but at least it slows down some of it.   Since the easiest thing to steal are slick calves (ones that aren’t branded) you might as well just hang a sign around their neck that says ‘Take me – I’m yours’. 

It’s sad but true.  So we brand.

As luck would have it, Saturday morning we woke up to a short lapse in the rain so we drug out the branding irons and got to work.

Morgan ran the hydraulic chute and branded.  He’s good at running the chute – he misses very few if any and that helps save a lot of time and cussing as you have to gather up the ones that manage to ‘squirt’ through the chute.  It ususally takes several tries to run them back into the corral and through the chute a second time.  Morgan’s also pretty quick with an iron – the hotter the iron the faster you can get the job done.

Dani grew up on horseback but not around cattle so she’s still kind of new to branding but this time she was in charge of changing out all the old ear tags and replacing them with new ones.  I think this is only the 2nd or 3rd branding Dani has ever been to but she’s not afraid to try something new.  Each yearling received a nice orange tag with a number in the left ear and a treated ‘fly’ tag in the right ear.  These fly tags will help keep the insects off of them through the summer.  Tagging can be a ‘snotty’ job but Dani is great about jumping right in and getting to work.

Dalton, Dan, our neighbor Paul and I usually end up doing whatever else needs to be done – pushing cattle into the chute, vaccinating, applying pour-on treatments for pests, keeping written records, taking photos, running for supplies and in this case de-horning the Longhorn cross steers.

And even Dally – Morgan’s new pup helped out by running cattle in and then staying out of the way while we worked.  She’s not even 6 months old but she’s smart and learning quick.

Having big crews to help is fun but personally I’ve missed out on a lot on those branding days because my job was always inside – cooking the meal.  I’m actually a pretty good cook but I’ll freely admit that the kitchen is not where I want to be.  Times have changed and I’ve gotten smarter.  Now I prepare everything in advance and as far as I’m concerned, crock pots and slow roasters are a gals best friends.  I’m proud to say I have mastered the art of cooking on auto-pilot and I would trade my stove in a heartbeat for the sight of my saddle on a good horse and the smell of burnt hair in my face.

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I’ll bet you’re wondering if I’ll ever get around to talking about ranching – aren’t you?

Well here goes.

This is winter – so there isn’t much that goes on around here except feeding cattle, horses and every other manner of animal that lives here (including us).  It can be exciting but how about some photos of working cattle from summertime instead?

These are cowboys.  Some are fast…  Some are slow… 

The fast ones usually last longer.  The slow ones end up bruised and hurting.

This is my honey.  He’s moving the branding irons around so they get nice and hot.  That’s my Dad running the gate and a neighbor checking the ear tags.  We use either a tag in the ear or one in the brisket (under their neck) to help identify our cattle.  There are also ear tags that are treated with pesticides to keep the flies away from the cattle.

Here’s some of our babies waiting for their turn.  I’ve often wondered what’s going through their minds.

“What are they doing?  Can I go first?  Do I really want to go first?  Where’s my Mom?  How do I get out of this chicken outfit?”

This is Butch – my husband’s cousin. 

“OK little guy – your turn.”

  “But I don’t want to go!”

Holy buckets of milk replacer, Batman!!!

Where did all these cowboys come from?

This way of working calves is called ‘Dragging ’em’.  You use a rope and a horse to drag them out of the pen (even though occasionally they will run you over on their way out) and to the waiting cowboys who flank them (you reach over the top of the calf, grab him by the flank right in front of their back leg and lift them off their feet and roll them over onto their sides).  Sounds easy – I usually don’t do this as most of the calves out weigh me. 

Here, Butch is waiting for Kyle (it’s good to have big friends) to untie his rope so he can go get another calf.  Slade ( the muscular kid on the left) is holding the back legs of the calf – can be a messy job take the other end if at all possible.  Richard (in the middle) is getting ready to castrate the little guy – another messy job.  DJ (our oldest son in the chaps) is holding down the head of the calf (this end usually makes lots of noise but little else).  John (another neighbor) is moving in to give a shot and here comes Hubby with a hot branding iron. 

It’s a well-oiled machine.

Here comes Grandpa Bud with the ear tags.  It only takes about 3-5 minutes per calf if everything goes right. 

Sometimes it doesn’t…

Here’s the little one that got away before he got his shot.

But we always get them – sooner or later and pretty soon everybody’s back with mama.  Then it’s time to put things away and head to the house for lunch.

It’s good to have lots of help.

Can you tell – we’ve started a little remodel job on the house?

Thank goodness the house doesn’t look like this anymore.  It’s amazing what a little sheet rock can do .

Branding day is a big event with lots of neigbors, friends and food.  And it’s a great time to check out all the sweet new babies running around the place.


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