Recently, we found ourselves marooned in the waiting room at our local tire shop. While we waited, my older sons debated which horses to ride on our first day of branding. Their conversation was overheard by a young couple seated adjacent to us. The couple asked a few questions about branding and we soon found ourselves in a discussion about what branding is and why it is the highlight of the year for my young sons.

I explained that preparing for branding actually starts several months before the opening day of branding season. During the winter months, many hours are spent schooling young horses, in hopes that they will be ready for their debut in the branding corral. Horses are not the only ones in training at that time; the new cowboy, the one who worked on the ground last branding season, has been practicing swinging his rope. At last, he is ready to try out his new skills.

Most of the remuda is shod and in good shape from moving cattle during the spring. However, the kids have spent the winter in school and consequently, their horses need their hooves trimmed. A little grooming wouldn’t hurt before branding starts—for the horses and the kids!

Man lassoing a calf

As we continue our conversation, I explain to the couple that as the season opener nears, preparation picks up speed. Panels are gathered from around the ranch to build the branding corral. Quick trips are made to the veterinarian for vaccine and other supplies. New ropes are purchased. Mule hide is wrapped on saddle horns. Boots and saddles are greased. There will be intense negotiations with neighbors to coordinate branding schedules; no one wants to miss a branding if it can be helped.

My new friends comment that branding sounds like a lot of hard work. To the contrary, I tell them, branding is all about play. It is a day of friendly competition, one-upmanship and swapping stories. In spite of the sweat, dust and rope burns, a day of branding is great fun enjoyed by all.


Since they brought up the subject of work, I asked if they wanted to know where the real work takes place during branding season. The real work is done in the kitchen, of course. Cooking enough food for 20 hungry cowboys and cowgirls is work.

Making sure there is plenty of food for everyone is a huge responsibility. I have discovered that there are three important parts of each branding meal: Beef, Biscuits and Brownies. As long as there are copious amounts of each, no one goes away hungry. In order to prepare all of this food the cook either toils away in the kitchen all morning or sweats over the cook stove at the branding corral.

Branding lassoed calf in the grass

When our names were finally called, releasing us from our waiting room captivity, I thanked the couple for their patience in the face of our tedious branding stories. As we drove home, I was glad for the opportunity to talk about the beef industry with consumers. I was also thankful that that they provided me with an opportunity to remember how fortunate I am to love what I do.

Even if that means being camp cook during branding season! end_mark

PHOTOS by Kim Brackett