No, on second thought, they want you to treat your animals better than the typical human in need of medical care at the ER. Which is not that high of a standard, really.

Here’s how I see a typical branding 20 years from now.

A USDA inspector will be on hand to ensure there will be no ear notching, hot iron branding, mugging, dehorning, wrestling or roping. Which explains why all the neighbors stayed home. Instead of calves being roped, a bunch of 12-year-old computer geeks will sit in comfort back at the ranch headquarters maneuvering drones over calves and gently dropping soft nets over them. A GPS will automatically inform the medical team of the calf’s location.

The surgical team will consist of the following: an anesthetist, surgical veterinarian, nurse, vet tech, cowboy A, cowboy B, an ambulance driver and two PRCA-certified rodeo clowns (not to be confused with USDA or EPA clowns).

All participants, by law, must be gowned and wear sterile gloves. When the mobile bovine hospital reaches the calf, two cowboy paramedics wearing those cute little booties doctors wear over their $1,500 shoes will jump out of the ambulance to gently retrieve the calf from its net.


They will attempt to place the calf in the sterile surgical theater in the ambulance without the calf’s mother killing them. This is where the PRCA clowns come into play.

If the calf’s mom displays extreme anti-social behavior, it’s the clowns’ job to distract the crazy cow long enough so that Cowboy A and Cowboy B can transport the calf in a loving manner without being gored or trampled to death.

Once in the surgical theater, the anesthesiologist will swab the injection site with a topical painkiller so the calf will not feel the anesthesiologist’s needle. To reduce separation anxiety, the back of the ambulance will open so the cow can be in contact with her calf during the medical procedure.

Should the cow attempt to climb into the ambulance, it is the job of any surviving cowboy or clown to persuade her otherwise without the use of a whip, rope or paddle. Should any cow persist, it will be the duty of the USDA observer to call a “time-out,” releasing the drugged calf to her stressed-out mother and thereby gaining a permanent exemption.

After the sterile draping is in place, the calf’s affected area should be cleaned, disinfected and shaved by the vet tech, and then the surgical team will perform a castration or a spaying of the heifer. The vet will also administer all shots and implant a computer chip with a mandatory USDA 32-digit password.

All incisions will be closed by the surgeon so the calf will not be self-conscious about his or her scar. This is especially important with heifer calves. Finally, since ranchers need some visible sign of ownership so they won’t accidentally eat their own beef instead of the neighbor’s, a freeze brand will be applied. White calves will be excused.

At the end of the branding, instead of the traditional beef barbecue, we’ll see Cowboy A hanging on for dear life at the top of a Joshua tree, preferring the 3-inch spines to the 12-inch horns of the mad momma down below.

The USDA inspector and any third-party observers will be locked in the front of the ambulance with all the windows rolled up, the doors locked and quivering like a leaf in a 30-mph gust. The two PRCA clowns will be running around the back of the ambulance with a witchy cow in close pursuit.

Meanwhile, the calves scattered all over the ranch will be waking up from their long naps, and any human survivors still mobile will head down to the hospital, where Cowboy B was medivacced in a Life Flight helicopter. The cowboy crowd will stand vigil until he dies from his wounds or comes out of his coma.

Any costs not covered by Medicalf will be borne by the rancher. (Typically $35,000 per calf.)  end mark