I Love Branding
I love the food, I love the work, I love the company and I love the warm weather it often takes place in! Branding season is a sign that summer is near!
At home, most brandings I attend don’t often have over 100 head of calves but this year, at work, we have close to 1200 head of calves to brand, out of the first calf heifers alone! It will probably take us close to a month of branding 3 or 4 days a week to get all our calves done so there will be no shortage of branding smoke for me!
Not only is that a lot of calves to brand, but it is also a lot of calves to rope and I am really excited because this means that I will have quite a few opportunities to throw some heel traps. I’m not the best roper around but I do enjoy it!
Now the practices used during branding are often under a bit of controversy. I’ll admit, from the outside looking in branding looks like it’s hard on calves. From roping them and dragging them to the branding fire to the actual process of branding, it isn't a pretty picture – unless you understand the fine-tuned machine behind the whole ordeal.
The processes of branding usually/often includes: branding, tagging, castrating, implanting, de-horning and vaccinating.
The root of animal welfare is stress. How much stress is the animal experiencing? How much of that stress is being inflicted by human actions? How can we minimize stress on the animal during this process? These are all questions that we ask ourselves when dealing with animals. Now looking at the practice of branding, it is obvious that there is stress inflicted on the calves through the actions of humans but all in all, the stress is necessary. Minimizing the stress and the effects it can have on the calves is what is important.
It is important to understand that everything that is done during branding has a purpose and a benefit. For instance, vaccinating prevents disease, de-horning reduces the risk of injuries within the herd and ease of handling. Castrating allows proper carcass development and control over genetics within a herd and the actual act of branding is what signifies ownership of the animal itself. There are no unnecessary treatments given to the calves during branding.
With enough people on hand, roping and dragging calves does effectively minimize stress. Initially, the calves are separated from their mothers and held in a pen together. With their herd instincts in mind, allowing the calves to remain together for as long as possible does play a part in minimizing stress. When they are roped, cowboys rope two hind legs or “set a heel trap” and drag the calf to the fire. Top hands do their best to catch and drag the calf efficiently to prevent injury as they are drug a short distance across the pen (often on grass footing). At the branding fire, when things are run efficiently, they will only have to spend about one minute or so on the ground, being wrestled or held with a head snare. With a capable crew, many different processes can occur simultaneously to minimize the time the calf has to be removed from the herd. Once the calf is finished, it jumps up and trots back to join its friends in the rest of the herd.
Old fashioned brandings minimize stress because:
· Calves are allowed to remain in a somewhat natural setting until they are roped
· The calves are worked on quickly and spend a minimum amount of time away from the herd
· During the whole process, they can see the rest of the calves, and sometimes even their mothers, if the branding pen is set up to allow as much.
· They often take less time overall than brandings that use calf tipping tables because more than one calf can be worked on at a time – that way the calves can be back with their mothers ASAP.
· They accomplish all necessary tasks required to keep the calves healthy and to prevent suffering in the future.
Some other options such as calf tipping tables can also be effective but as said above, they usually take a little longer. They are however very effective in situations where there is not enough help available to allow for ropers. In situations like that, they allow for just a few people to get the job done!
Animal welfare concerns are often defined by the amount of stress that animals are under and by doing our best to minimize stress, ranchers and farmers sustain a high quality of life for the animals and improve the quality of the final product for you!