Branding Cattle in Wyoming With Skye Clark

By Skye Clark

Branding day for me is like everyone else. I help and when I get a couple of free seconds I grab my camera and take pictures. I do whatever job the boss orders me to do. When it’s time to switch Ropers, I rope. When it’s time to work the ground, I either mug and set ropes or vaccinate. Just whatever they need me to do.

I understand where to be and where not to be, but sometimes to get a unique or different shot I have to get in the way somewhat. But I always make sure to assess the situation and not cause a wreck first. Then I tell them if they need to run me over, go ahead and do it.

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 Branding day starts by catching horses.  All the neighbors come help, and in return, we help neighbors.  Nobody is paid.  It's just good ol' boys helping each other, and having a good time.

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After the crew gathers, they gear up to gather the cattle.

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The crew then gathers pairs to the branding trap.

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Most of the mammas are sorted off of the calves.  Everything is done horseback.  It makes good hands and good horses.

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The vaccines we give are typically a live/mod live vaccine.  They are kept cool until branding then mixed.  The vaccines prevent/help aid against many diseases and boost calves immunity.

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The branding irons are also heated while vaccine is being mixed.  Most people use a propane bottle and weed burner type torch to heat the irons that are kept in an iron pot of some sort.  There are several irons of the same brand so that when there are multiple calves on the ground to be branded, there is always a hot iron available.

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Reata is braiding her hair, getting it put up and out of the way so she can go to work.  She has rope burns on her hands, so she tapes them to prevent further damage.

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There are many ways to brand, but we head and heel rope everything.  With a good crew, you can easily brand on avg 300-400 head a day.  It makes good horses, and saves a ton of work for the ground crew.  Having a good crew that knows how to handle cattle is a must though.  There is a lot to watch.  Usually, there are 6-8 ropers at a time.  So they would have 3-4 pairs of teams, split in the branding pen.  2-3 teams will rope on one side of the branding pot/work area, with the others on the opposite side.

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Everyone has a job.  The ropers bring the calf to "the fire" or branding pot, the muggers tail the calf down and set the head rope on the front feet and on a hind leg if the heeler only catches one.  

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It’s extremely important for the kids to learn the proper ways of doing things in addition to why we do them the way we do them. They need to learn how to do every job properly with the least amount of stress/pain on the animals. They need hands on experience to be good hands and to fully understand why things are done the way they are.  You can’t learn this stuff in books.

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There is a guy that castrates, a guy that brands, and usually 2 gals that vaccinate. 

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Cattle are branded to represent ownership.  Most people out west run their cattle on BLM (Bureau of Land Management)  or Forest permits with other cattle owners.  And most folks have different color ear tags, but often cattle lose them so the brand is needed to help the rancher keep more of his cattle.  If you were a cattle rustler, it would be easy to gather someone's cattle and just cut the ear tags out.  But it makes it pretty hard to get away with them sporting a brand.  If it weren't for brands, most of America wouldn't eat because most folks would lose too many cattle and couldn't stay in business.

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The kids get in on it and help chalk the calves that are done. 

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-Skye Clark ranches and photographs near Smoot, Wyoming. Follow her here: 

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