Mr. Rancher, the Little Miss, and I went to help our landlord, Bruce, brand fifty or so calves this past weekend. As always, Henley loved the branding and so did Mr. Rancher. I had the pleasure and extreme-anxiety-inducing experience of roping calves for the very first time ever….can you tell I was nervous?
After knocking my hat off my head twice, tangling my rope maybe twelve or thirteen times, and simply holding two calves I didn’t rope but practiced the art of “dallying up,” I managed to catch a calf. “Oh sh**” were the exact words from my mouth the moment I realized my loop was in fact all the way around the calf’s head and tightening ever so slowly around his neck. See, I’d practiced throwing a loop many times around our water spigot at home and knew how to swing and throw the rope, even how to tighten it up, but I had no idea what in tarnation I should do once I had caught I real live calf. And the words just slipped out, like a reflex to my predicament. Thankfully, my brother-in-law Tanner wasn’t roping–due to a run-in with a post driver–and noticed my predicament. He told me to just hang out with the calf around all the other calves so he wouldn’t start jumping around or fighting to get the rope off his neck. I waited until another roper was free to come catch the heels so we could take the calf to the branding fire. Not long afterwards we (me and the other roper…I can’t seem to remember who caught the feet…I was stressed!) had the calf all tied down and ready to be worked and were soon letting it loose again.
I headed back and wouldn’t you know caught another calf not much later? Again I had no idea what I was doing and this time my rope landed on a much bigger calf–not the one I was aiming at–and he put up much more of a fight. At one point he had almost completely circled my horse and wrapped us up in the rope before I managed to get my horse moving the right direction. Mr. Rancher yelled at me to ” slide my dallies!” or something like that, which made zero sense to me at the time. I ended up losing my rope, Tanner was nice enough to pick it up and hold it while I dallied up and coiled it back up. Back we went to the branding fire.
I went out a third time and caught the first calf I threw at, this time a much smaller baby. I brought this one to the fire and decided I’d better quit while my luck was still holding. Plus, Henley was tired of being dragged around (and by that I mean carried very carefully from one calf to the next to help with the work) by Uncle Tanner and wanted some snacks. She and I spent the rest of the branding passing out drinks and walking through the mama cows.
In case some of you are totally lost on the concept of “roping calves” I’ll give you a quick-non-expert-run-down of the process and why we do it. Ranchers brand their cattle as a means of identification. The brand is the end-all mark of who owns various cattle. Neighboring cattle get mixed all the time and a brand is one way ranchers can figure out which cows are theirs. Ranchers also use eartags and earmarks–patterns cut into the cow’s ears–to identify their animals. At a branding calves are “worked” which includes: branding, vaccinating, treating pinkeye or other mild illness, castrating if necessary, and earmarking the calves. The idea is to get all the mess over with as quickly as possible and get the babies back to their mamas.
In order to get the calf to hold still and to avoid injury to the calf or the cowboys ranchers invite their neighbors to come rope their calves while the rancher and his family or employees do the ground work. One cowboy (or cowgirl or farm-girl-who-is-more-like-a-city-girl-turned-rancher’s-wife) will rope the calf’s head and another will rope the two hind feet. In a perfect world this would always be the set up, but sometimes only one hind foot is caught or the rope catches around the calf’s belly or goes around the calf’s shoulder and neck…you get the idea. This may sound simple, but it really is a very complicated task. First of all, the cowboy is not only roping but also riding a horse. The cowboy has to direct the horse towards the calf he wants to catch, swing the rope overhead without catching his hat in the process, aim, catch the calf, quickly catch the slack rope that just left his hand, remember to keep his thumb out of the way and wrap the remaining rope three or four times around his saddle horn (this is called “dallying up”) so that the horse is now holding the calf rather than the cowboy’s arm. Was that a long, run-on sentence? Most ropers probably don’t think through all of these steps since a lot of the work has become second nature for them. There’s nothing second-nature about riding a horse let alone roping from a horse for me, and I was exhausted (and okay, just a teensy bit proud of myself) after roping only three calves!
Mr. Rancher just called to tell me we have another neighbor to help brand tonight and asked if I wanted a horse. I told him thanks but no thanks. I’ve still got rope burns to heal, man.
Hope you all have a great week, and, hey, maybe try something new!