worried moms waiting for calves  

Branding is form of "marking" livestock to identify ownership. It dates back to ancient Roman times. There are many ways to do it but at our ranch we use a hot iron. A branding iron is a metal symbol or mark attached to a metal rod. This is then heated in a fire and once hot, it is applied to the hide of the animal to be marked. Our brand is the M bar 7, that is stacked, meaning it is an M on top of a flat line over the number 7. This mark is placed on the right rib of the cattle.

Branding and tagging.

The purpose for this is for proving ownership of animals, especially in the case of lost, wandering, or stolen animals. Many western US states have strict laws regarding brands, including brand registration and required brand inspections. In many cases, a brand on an animal is considered legal positive proof of ownership.

Mark operating the chute.

Branding is not just about marking the cattle, as many other things are done at the same time. The calves are also vaccinated, given fly tags, the bull calves are "banded" or castrated, records are kept, pour on is used, etc. The cows are also vaccinated and poured for fly control.

Flytag button tagger elastrator stretched band

Preparation for branding actually begins a week or two before, when you pick up your fly tags, bands, vaccinations, de-wormer, etc. I also begin to plan the menu and pick up the groceries. This year the menu includes ham, baked beans, macaroni salad, and fruit salad.  (See Recipes) I want a menu that I can cook ahead of time or leave to slow cook while I am out working.

ear tagger loaded

On Friday, Mark and I bring the cattle from the north pastures to the pasture just north of the house so they are close for us to begin in the morning. I also spend part of the day cutting up watermelon, honeydew, melon, cantaloupe, and a pineapple for the fruit salad, the ham is taken out to defrost. I get out a cooler for drinks, and a cooler for vaccinations. I also round up a notebook and pens for records, get out the camera bag and load it with cameras. While I am doing this, Mark is rounding up extension cords, vaccine guns, slap shot, pour on, elastrator, and other supplies we will need for tomorrow.

elastrator loaded

On Saturday, we are up early. I put the ham and the baked beans in the oven, and make the macaroni salad and put it in the fridge. I slice the buns, so they can have ham sandwiches or just ham. Mark brings the cattle in and the calves are sorted off from the cows. We plan on beginning at 9 am with the branding. We prefer to have a smaller group of people at our brandings so Amaya and her husband Korey and Hannah and her boyfriend, Mitch will be here to help today. The rest of the kids were unable to come and help this year.

the syringe

I make a very quick trip the 2 miles to Bainville to the Welcome Stop to buy ice for the coolers. Four bags should do it. A larger cooler is loaded with drinks such as bottled water, soda, and Gatorade. It is going to be a long, hot day. The smaller cooler is where we will keep the bottles of vaccines. I load up the coolers into the back of the pickup, with my camera, hat, and sunscreen, and head down to the working tub.

the slapshot

We begin by running the cows through the chute. Mark is pretty good with the slap shot. This is a length of tube, attached at one end to the vaccine gun and has a needle at the other, so we do not need to catch each cow individually. We load the chute and the alleyway with cows, squeezing them in tight - the tighter the better, less moving. Mark starts at the back and I at the front. I am "pouring" the cows; that is I am putting a liquid insecticide along the backbone to help keep the flies, ticks and other biting insects away. It also takes care of worms. Mark is vaccinating the cows with PregGuard 10, which is a vaccine with protection from several different diseases. This goes pretty quick as the cows have been through the chute before and they know the drill. We have about 60 head of cows and heifers to do.

This is a piece of equipment that acts as a chute to catch the much smaller calves but then it squeezes them and rotates them onto their side so we can more easily do the work on each calf.

When we are finished with the cows, we put away the slap shot and the vaccine for the cows and begin to prepare for the calves. Mark goes to get the tractor and places the calf table in front of the chute. The calves are too small to use the chute so we will use the calf table. This is a piece of equipment that acts as a chute to catch the much smaller calves but then it squeezes them and rotates them onto their side so we can more easily do the work on each calf.

calf table rotated

I drop the tail gait on the pickup which I have pulled up fairly close to the calf table. On the tail gate I lay out the elastrator with the bands beside it. The fly tags are opened and the tagger lays beside them. The syringes are laid out with the cooler next to them. The branding iron is hung next to the table and plugged in.

electric branding iron face This is the first year that we have used an electric branding iron. Mark got it for Christmas. Prior to this we had a torch heating the old branding irons. It was very noisy with the torch roaring to keep them heated, and there were three irons to keep in the fire and keep hot. With the new electric branding iron, it is one iron and always hot.
electric branding iron

Then we begin...Korey is pushing the calves. This is very hard work! The calves are small and afraid. They do not just go through the alley, but have to be pushed, literally. One at a time, he brings them up and pushes them into the calf table. It's also DIRTY work! You are pushing on the dirty end of a calf whose diet consists of milk and very green grass.

Once the calf is in the table with its head caught in the gate, Mark squeezes it up and pulls the calf and the table over onto its side. As the calf is put in the table, we let Hannah know the number (ear tag) and the sex of the calf. Hannah makes note of this and any other information, illness or injuries on each calf as it comes through. Hannah doesn't really like this job but she is expecting a baby and we don't want her getting hurt. Hannah keeping books
Amaya using 'pour on'

I begin by giving a shot under the skin at the back of the front leg. Then I go for the branding iron. Amaya is pouring the calves and taking a couple pictures when she has time. She also is helping Mitch "round up" the calves that panic and go the wrong way when they are released. Sometimes instead of going back to their mothers they go the opposite direction and crawl through the fence and head for the highway.

Mark tagging a calf Mark is putting fly tags in, one in each ear of the calf, and if it is a bull calf, Mark does the banding. That is a small rubber band which is placed around the testicles of the calf. The blood supply is interrupted and the testicles will die and fall off. We have about fifty calves to do this year. When we get approximately half of the calves done we take a break, a little rest, a little visiting and something to drink. Then we get back to work and finish the rest of the calves.

vaccinating a calf

As soon as we finish the last calf, I close the tail gate on the pickup and head for the house to put the food on the table. There is not a lot to do but a few things. Get the ham and baked beans out of the oven, slice the ham and put on the table, get out condiments, etc. Just last minute stuff so when the rest of them come in, all they have to do is wash up and eat. While we eat, the cows and the calves are getting paired up and settling down now they are back together. After we eat, we will take them back out to pasture. Then it is time to relax and enjoy the company!

Next year we will welcome a new baby at the branding and enjoy the fact that our way of life goes on.


Mark and Shellie Pacovsky
Bainville, MT
PH. 406-769-2971
Cell 406-769-7971
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Last Updated: August 06, 2014