Branding traditions and values
Meet Rosie Templeton. She’s a native Canadian who is working on a degree in ag communications at Oklahoma State University. This summer she’s been stationed north of the border for us, writing and communicating the value of CAB to everyone in the production chain. Now that you’ve been formally introduced, read on to see what brandings look like in her part of the world. –Miranda
We know the value of a good brand…but we’re not the only ones.
While I’m working for a branded beef program this summer, I got to take in a branding on “the other side” of the business in the Cypress Hills of southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada, where the time-honored practice is alive and well. You won’t find a tipping table or a chute in sight, but you will find rope-and-dragging cowboys, community spirit, and some of the quickest hands you’ll ever see.
A backdrop of rolling hills and the unique cowboy camaraderie makes it easy to romanticize this picture of the Old West, but you’ll find out quickly that these folks aren’t interested in showmanship. The work is done efficiently and with care for the calves, and every step from castrating to vaccinating and branding plays an important role in the health and identification of the cattle.
Brandings can be found at many commercial and purebred cow-calf operations in this area (just like their counterparts in the western U.S.), and the late spring hosts several every weekend. They’re a social affair, with community members showing up to help from the early-morning gathering of the pairs to the branding and the
feast that always follows.
The Armstrong family of Eastend, Sask., tackled the project of branding on a cloudy Saturday in early June. Bill and Nadine Armstrong, along with their son Travis, his wife Dixie and their three children, operate the herd of 600 black Angus cows that make up T-T Ranch.
This was the scene when we pulled in to the branding, and the help just kept on coming.
The branding wasn’t without challenges. As all farmers and ranchers know, we are often at the mercy of Mother Nature. A heavy downpour halted operations for a couple of hours before the crew went back out and finished the work in the rain.
Many ranchers around Eastend run hundreds of cattle and multiple sections of land. The brands serve as identification for the cattle out on the range and allow ranchers to keep an eye on their herds that may be spread out over thousands of acres.
There was a job for every generation. These kids kept busy playing with the calves, collecting the “prairie oysters” [some of our readers might recognize those as Rocky Mountain Oysters], and catching frogs in the tall grass.
For the Armstrongs (and many ranchers in this area), calves spend the time from birth in the early spring to fall grazing on pasture alongside their mothers. Most are either sold off the cow in the fall to stockers or backgrounded at the ranch before being sold through local consignment sales and auction markets in the spring. The calves then move on to feedlots anywhere from western Canada to Ontario, and many of them will qualify for the Certified Angus Beef ® brand. About 125 head of replacement heifers are bred each summer, with the top end selling at the Rock Solid Bred Heifer Sale in Swift Current, Sask., in December.
Brandings are unique in their ability to mix the cowboy lifestyle with modern practices. It’s also an important way to keep cattle [and beef products] identified, their ownership secure. Branding isn’t suited to every cattle operation, but it’s tough to argue the community togetherness and usefulness of the practice for the ranchers here in Eastend.