It’s one of those mornings when you can feel the energy in the air. You don’t mind that you got up early. You don’t even mind that it’s foggy, or cool outside this morning. People start arriving, trailers and horses in tow. Granny’s kitchen smells of fresh baked biscuits, scrambled eggs, bacon and coffee, because Lorelei has been up all night cooking. There’s the dull roar of people chatting, asking about what their job will be that day. Asking if they can do something else this year.
Hurriedly I eat breakfast, chat with the folks that pulled in in the middle of the night when we were sleeping, and run outside to greet whoever else has just arrived, on my way to the corrals.
June mornings in South Dakota are rarely warm. But by 11 am you’re ready to shed at least one layer of clothing.
I catch my mount for the day and saddle up, throwing some chinks on my saddle horn, and tying my horse up while I wait.
Sometimes branding day on the ranch is like that. It’s a hurry up- because you’re anxious- and wait- because you have all day to do the job- kind of day.
Finally it’s time to mount up and head out, after we’ve instructed folks about where we’re going and what we’re doing.
There’s an excited hush and sometimes even quiet as we long-trot out through the fresh green, dew covered grass, to the pasture that we’re about to gather. One by one we drop off to gather the herd, sometimes sending some cattle in the direction they’re supposed to go and sometimes trailing them until another rider will claim them, and we can continue on our way.
Occasionally you’ll hear cry of a calf as he searches for his mama, or the cry of the cow as she searches for her calf. Eventually we’ll all meet up, each of us trailing our own set of cattle; we’ll put the herd together and trail them to the corral. There’s always a few late calves that lag behind that need some extra attention to keep them lined out and prevent them from running back to the place where their mama just left them. Often they’re unaware that their mama is just in the herd in front of them. Sometimes the mama’s keep their babies right at their side and sometimes, they find themselves separated.
Once gathered in the corrals, the mamas are sorted from the babies; they’ll get their spring shots, be poured with an insecticide and counted. To say it’s loud in the corrals is an understatement. There’s people being yelled to , the laughter of kids running around, of the adults enjoying the day, someone has already cracked their first beer and it’s well before noon, the cry of calves, the bawling of cows and inevitably My Cowboy is running around making sure things are operating smoothly. If you pay attention you can smell dirt, sunscreen, insecticide and of course the unmistakeable smell of bovines.
Lunch is brought to the corrals, and we all eat on the go because it’s the easiest thing to do.
The fun is just beginning, because you see, on branding day at the ranch, the fun really starts when we get done working cows.
We have lots of guests at our branding, most of whom aren’t proficient riders and certainly aren’t handy with a rope, so at our big branding we don’t rope and drag our calves to the fire. They’re flanked by hand, and that’s why the guests find branding day so fun. You might find yourself rolling around in mud, or something else, the smell of burnt hair fills the air. Kids are asking their parents to flank calves with them, or for a job to do. They’ll carry a bucket of calf nuts, or the chalk to mark a calf vaccinated, and they can’t wait to “ride” a calf and giggle and laugh as they get “bucked” off.
Branding day is my favorite day of the year. There’s excitement, satisfaction and laughter. A day where the spirit of The West comes alive again, if only for a few hours. It’s a life I’m blessed to live.
For more information about attending branding day at the ranch visit our website.
What is your most vidid moment of 2010? I’d love to know!