Every spring across the American West, an event takes place on any given weekend. Spring branding isn't just taking care of stock to ward off theft and disease. It is, on many ranches in our area, a social gathering.
Several weekends ago, my dad and husband were invited to rope at Dan Bratlie and Chuck Hack's spring branding out on desert pasture near Holdman highway. Those dusty corrals have seen many days of sorting, gathering and branding cattle and this day was no different.
My daughters and I arrived while they were on a break for lunch. Barbecue grills, coolers, tables, chairs and all the food you could eat was set up for the rather large crew.
As I looked around, there were faces of people I knew and some I didn't. I have been going to brandings since before I could walk and have been helping at my dad's for almost as long. There are always plenty of ropers offering to throw a loop at a calf, but sometimes getting ground crew can be another matter.
I figured I'd show up in case they were short someone who knew how to give a shot or keep the fire hot. This day, however, there were a lot of guys out there, willing to wrestle the baby calves to the ground and work them through.
From the time a rope is around the calves' back legs and the ropers drag them to the fire, the process takes just 3-4 minutes. After they are back with their buddies, some calves lie down and go to sleep while horses and men walk and talk all around them.
Now I know why my dad does his branding the "old" way, so I asked Dan why he does it that way as well.
"I think it's a lot less stressful and easier on the calves," he said. "They don't get banged up in the chute and it's easier on the crew, too."
He added with a grin, "And it's a helluva lot of fun."
With crew members who know what they're doing and everyone having a job to do, it is as smooth as any team event. It also can be a wild ride of near misses, but it's always a lot of fun.
Samantha Stollar of Hermiston is a married, working mother of three and part-time ranch hand for her dad. She spends her free time chasing kids, dogs and horses.