Calving heifers, building fence and cleaning out spring boxes, these are a few of my least favorite things. But the hardest chore every year is finding a date for a branding. Getting a bunch of ranchers to agree on anything, much less a free work day, is like herding three dozen cats.
I live in Fall calving country which means branding takes place in January and February. There is a cowboy shortage in our area due to the pay scale and several ranchers also have another job in town, which limits brandings to the weekends. Throw in the Super Bowl, leap year and an extremely rare rain storm and finding a free date becomes somewhat complex. Not that we mind a little rain now and then.
Our branding date was always the third Saturday in January and it was an honored tradition that you never jump on another persons’s date. Although there was the occasional rancher who knowingly scheduled their branding on my date as a way to insure that my wonder horse Gentleman and I would not be in attendance at their roundup.
A rich, soft shoe, dude was buying up ranches in our area and became much despised, until, that is he sent out formal invitations to his branding. They were like wedding announcements, “So and so and his wife cordially invite you to be attendance when we give our calves up to be branded, blah, blah blah.” The invitation included a formal menu featuring filet mignon, berry cobbler and homemade ice cream and there was even a wine list. There’d be a concert by a “Nashville artist”, door prizes and a drawing for a fully tooled saddle. The invitation then asked for an RSVP. To a branding. You gotta be kidding!
But the worst part was the no good, low-life dude stole our date!
My wife and I prepared for our branding in the usual manner and figured everyone was merely running a little late on the day of our branding, but as we waited for the goosenecks to arrive we were underwhelmed by the turnout. Our friends, Mr. and Mrs. ReRide showed up but when I said, “I thought you might not show, figuring you’d go to the big shindig at the rich neighbors.”
“We completely forgot about it,” said ReRide as he climbed back in his truck and left faster than you can say “Benedict Arnold!” The worthless traitor. I didn’t miss ReRide for his work ethic but he always brought donuts and they went out the driveway with him.
There wouldn’t be any of our irons in the fire that day and around noon, as my wife and I were moping about, we both got the same idea at the same time: “Aren’t you curious?”
We had to search for a parking place as the rich guy’s front pasture was filled with the trucks of a bunch of loafers, tramps, deadbeats and turncoats. And that was just my neighbors. There was an equal number of city dudes who sat on the top rails and applauded the cowboys as they roped and branded. It all went to the cowboy’s heads and they acted like they were at the NFR or the USTRC finals. Obviously, the balance of the power in the west had shifted.
I must admit that the filet mignon was scrumptious, the homemade ice cream divine and the Nashville act sang pretty good too. When I was formally introduced to the starch collared Big Cheese I thought it a good time to pull him aside and explain cowboy etiquette and that he had jumped on my date. Needless to say, he was very apologetic but I know when I’m beat. In the end I traded my branding date in the future for a pickup load of rained-on hay, some leftover berry cobbler, and a used calf table. I had a feeling we’d be needing it.
Faced with a bleak choice of leftover branding dates I finally picked one. So if you’re not doing anything next Christmas you are formally invited to our branding. There will be pork and beans, cheese and crackers and for entertainment I’ll be doing a few of my favorite card tricks. My dog and I may even howl a few songs and there will be door prizes for everyone from the Dollar Store. Please RSVP.