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Irons in the fire: Wake ’em up and brand ’em

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 27 April 2018
Paul with his grandchild

Once springtime finally arrived, I got to thinking it might actually be possible to think about the spring branding.

When it was all I could do to keep a calf alive for a couple of miserable stretches during calving season, I silently wondered if I’d have anything left to brand if the sun ever did make an appearance. But even after the darkest, coldest days, metaphorically or meteorologically speaking, things eventually turn around, and the sun does shine again. It turns out we had enough calves survive so we really could have a branding again this year.

Branding time is always a big deal, no matter your preferred method of getting the job done. There is rarely a shortage of cowboys, punchers, buckaroos and pretenders who are willing to offer their services to rope at a branding of any size. Branding is as much an event as it is a job. And if you can spend the day atop your horse, roping calves, it is generally a pretty good day.

In cow country, you don’t have to look very hard to find someone willing to spend the day roping at a branding. The search to find a blowhard willing to brag about his exploits in the branding pen is even easier. Easier still is to find someone willing to criticize any method, other than roping and dragging, to lay a mark on a calf. Why, to use a calf table is tantamount to treason.

I’ll admit I prefer to rope ’em and drag ’em, but I don’t believe the guy who hires the neighbor kids to grab and flank calves out of a tight pen or has his own kids push 100 kicking and bawling calves up an alley to a calf table, where his wife runs the iron, is any more deserving of derision than an outfit that spends a fortnight out on the desert, gathering and branding 200 at a time.

Often, there are as many ways to get a job done as there are people to do the job. Just because a method is different, doesn’t mean it is wrong. Even if it’s not better, it’s not necessarily wrong.

I found the need to justify that stance to myself in another arena not long ago. My wife and I had made the lovely trek south through northern Utah and then eastward across the entire state of Wyoming, to Cheyenne to visit our daughter and son-in-law and, mostly, to see our new granddaughter.

If you’ve ever driven Interstate 80 across Wyoming, you know there’s no pleasant way to do it. The infamous Wyoming wind will always see to that. Regardless of that, the ends certainly justified the means in this case. The opportunity to hold a new granddaughter easily softens the blow of the realization you’re old enough to be a grandparent.

Baby Marlena (named after her German great-great-grandmother) had plenty of admirers. My son from Idaho Falls and his wife and daughter were in Denver on a business trip, so they slipped on over to Cheyenne for the day. My daughter and son-in-law, along with their three little ones from Buffalo, were in the area for state range meetings.

And to top off the entourage, Marlena’s other grandparents were also in town that weekend. At times, it was probably more ruckus and attention than a 2-month-old baby preferred.

In the middle of it all, at the end of the day, Grandpa Nathan was cradling his new granddaughter as he softly talked to her. She, in turn, looked up at him and seemed to talk right back to him with those soft, intent little noises babies make. I was impressed and maybe a little jealous.

She didn’t really seem to be that content when I held her. Later that night, perhaps sensing my ever-so-slight minor case of melancholy, my daughter made the observation Grandpa Nathan was a genuine baby whisperer.

To me, she then said, “You, Dad, are more of a ‘baby waker-upper.’”

I took that as it was intended – a sincere compliment. Grandpa Nathan uses different, though no less genuine or loving, methods than I do. Neither of us is wrong, and we both (I hope) are right.

There’s more than one way to brand a calf, and there’s more than one way to love a grandbaby.  end mark

PHOTO: Often, there are as many ways to get a job done as there are people to do the job. Just because a method is different, doesn’t mean it is wrong. Even if it’s not better, it’s not necessarily wrong. Photo provided by Paul Marchant.

Paul Marchant
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