It's cattle buying time, which means it's branding time, too. We're raising a small herd this year, but the work is the same. We bought black Angus steers to feed out for freezer beef and red Angus to return to auction. The calves come to us with at least one brand, sometimes two depending on their age and if they've been bought and sold before. We add our brand.
Our Piedra River ranch brand is P—R, spoken P bar R. We incorporate the brand into a lot of things around the ranch. Naturally, the ranch business cards have the brand on it; the horse and cattle trailers; sign over front entry gate and gate to the Piedra River; signs on the barns, tack room, and a metal sign for my writing cottage.
Last year was our first year to go electronic instead of traditional cowboy branding. Up until then, it was fire/hot coals, long handle branding irons, round-up on horseback, rope/tie, sear, cut 'em loose. Now, it's chutes, portable generator, and electric branding irons.
Just in case you wondered, yes, the smell of burning cow hide is still horrible. And, yes, it's stressful for the calves. Doesn't he look like he was thinking Oh, no, I'm next!?
Betty Slade, fellow writer from Pagosa Springs came out to see the "new" way of branding. Her observations may end up in one of her contemporary novels.
Branding cattle is an ancient practice. Four-thousand-year-old Egyptian tomb paintings depict roundups and cattle branding. It's legend that Hernán Cortés' three Latin crosses brand was the first brand used in the Western Hemisphere. Until tattooing became available, burning or freezing an identification mark into the hide was the only permanent method.
Among the oldest continual Texas brands is the King Ranch's Running W. It was originally registered in 1869 by Richard King and re-registered in 1943.
Who keeps up with all the brands? If our steers get out, how does the forest service know who to call?
In Colorado, the State Board of Stock Inspection compiles a book of all livestock brands and earmarks. Each of the 31 districts has a brand inspector. In my 2012 brand book, 28, 224 brands are listed. Our P—R brand is listed on page 230, block 21.
How do they read the brand? How do they make sense of all of the squiggles, arcs, lines and numbers?
They read the brand left to right (how it's strung), top to bottom (stacked). PR would read P then R, as you would read it in a sentence. If it has a line above, read "bar PR." If it's in the middle of a box, read "box PR."
There is a standard way to refer to each mark.
Okay, CFHS fans, you're going to love this. I had to stop uploading this blog on my due date because stray cattle broke through the East mountainside fence to get water from the creek running behind our house. It took a while to get close enough to see the brands - finally had to use binoculars, determine that they didn't belong to neighbors on either side of us, and call the brand inspector.
I know part of scaring the cattle out of range was because I was laughing so hard at the irony of writing about brands and having to go do what I was writing about. The brands showed the pattern of purchase and current owner. The cattle were from the lease program with the forest service.
The next time you see livestock read the brands and write them down. Your local library should have your state's latest brand book. It's a bit satisfying to read the brand and find out who owns the livestock. Kinda like being a brand inspector.
It's now fence fixing time. Have a blessed day and enjoy some CFHS authors' novels.
Lin writes historical fiction for adults and children. Her young adult historical series The Butcher Boys Chronicles is set in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Book One: Escape from Outlaw Ridge feathers 14 year old Malachi West, who wants more than anything to be a real cowboy. He's determine to escape his kidnappers and head for Texas. But, he can't find a way out of the mile deep, armed guard quarry.
Lin enjoys their horses, dogs, and cattle. She and Jerry live in Chimney Rock, Colorado.