The One Week I Live For

The annual one week reminder of what I really want in life.

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My son and I went down to Dryhead Ranch, based in Wyoming for branding week. I love being on a ranch. I love doing cattle work. Still, this is the best Tom Sawyer deal ever. I pay a lot of money to go do someone else’s work. It is possible that they could do the work faster without guests “helping” but Tom would still be proud.

We arrived Sunday evening in time for dinner after driving for two days across California, Nevada, parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Monday we gathered the cow/calf pairs and then sorted out the pairs in which the calf needed branding. We moved the sorted group to a lower pasture so they would be easy to pull down into the branding corral.

Tuesday we rode out to the pasture to gather and move the sorted pairs down into the branding corral. We had 49 calves that would get branded, ear notched, banded for castration, a 7 way vaccination and a black leg vaccination. Not a great day for the calves. “Mom, look what they did to me!”


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A rider will lasso the hind legs of a calf and drag it to the stove. An attempt is made to catch it in the Nord Fork. If this works, getting everything done is pretty quick. About half the time the Nord Fork does not catch and calf must be wrestled down by the mugger. Once the calf is down each person moves in for their assigned task; ear notching, 7 way vaccination, black leg vaccination, castration band for bull calves, and branding. If the Nord Fork caught, it takes about 3 minutes. If the calf is held by a mugger, it takes about 5 minutes. Once everything is done, the calf is released. One minute after the calf is released, it is impossible to tell by behavior which calves have been branded and which have not. The calf is reunited with its mother who checks it out carefully to make sure the calf is OK.

Branding is often a big social event in ranching life. Friends are invited to help and once the work is done, there is a big feast to celebrate the beginning of another year. Branding usually marks the end of calving season and the beginning of growing the cattle to ready them for market. A little like the celebrations that happen in farming communities once planting is complete.

This year was different in that the Smith women did not come along. Dryhead Ranch is more secluded and offered little in the way of shopping or sight seeing. So, the girls stayed home. My son and I got an opportunity to ‘bond’ and celebrate that father/son thing.

On Tuesday, Yoshi and I worked together wrestling calves. I really enjoyed working with my son. Which only further reinforces my desire to make a life change into a ranching community. On Thursday, Yoshi was out sick, which was a disappointment. He and I got to ride together on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. I was sick Wednesday, he was sick Thursday. The big drawback of the trip. Getting sick. Not fun.

Until I live in Montana/Wyoming/Dakota, I am sure that I will continue to pay Tom a precious price for the opportunity to do his work for him.

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