January 15, 2008

The Power of a Livestock Brand

Yesterday I had a little time to take my horses out for some exercise. I trailered them over to the Salt Lake County Equestrian Park, which has a nice warm indoor arena. I saddled up Target, my five year old and let him pace himself with the race horses from the adjoining track that were being exercised at the same time. Target is the fastest horse I have ever owned and managed to keep up with and even pass some of the race horses. It was fun for the both of us. He carries my brand the Quarter Circle K on his right shoulder. It is a freeze brand applied by the vet when he was gelded between his second and third year.

A freeze brand for horses, as opposed to a fire or hot brand for cattle is smaller – about two and a half inches in size. Cattle brands are about twice that. A freeze brand is deep cooled using dry ice or the equivalent and then applied. It does not sear the hide but it kills the color producing hair follicles leaving the white ones to grow out and form the brand. When done right, it creates a handsome, painless and permanent brand on a horse. Not everyone does this – in fact I know of only a handful of ranchers and stable owners that do. I ran into one after I put up Target and saddled up my big half-draft horse Rory. We got out into the arena and were going around nicely when I noticed this gray haired, gray bearded guy with a dirty old black hat (looking a lot like Gaby Hays) riding a good looking quarter type horse. As I passed, he asked about my horse, saw my brand on his shoulder. I stopped and looked at him at said “Aren’t you the guy from the Rocking P?” There was no way I could remember his name, but I remembered his brand.

We had done some horse trading eight years ago. I gave him an update on a horse named Dan that I bought from him all those years ago. Dan carried the Rocking P brand and was a good horse – about fourteen then, now he has got to be around twenty two. He has a good home in the Colfax, Washington area where a young girl and her family owns him. So we chatted a bit – saddles, draft horses and carriage driving, runaway rigs – he tried to sell me a matching Percheron – I didn’t take the bait. We left the arena at about the same time. I went home and looked up his name in my horse records.

I got to thinking about livestock brands. Not only are they proof of ownership of livestock – and really the only failsafe one. They also form part of the identity of the owner. They are a little like an American family coat-of arms – they tell the tale of the men and women behind them – even when names fade out. Last fall when I sold my cattle to the feedlot, the brand inspector as well as my customer knew that calves carrying the Quarter Circle K came from a certain place and were of a certain quality and were good to go without any further argument. I didn't even need to be present for the inspection as is often the case with brand inspectors. Such is the power of a brand.

The following poem is about branding a springtime calf with my kids. All I can say is that fire branding does hurt and calves do act up – regardless of what you may have seen on TV or the movies.

Resurrection on the Quarter Circle K
by Paul Kern

The cattle fed on grass and corn,
Angus, Herefords, and a skinny Shorthorn,
The blacks and reds fattened up right,
But the Shorthorn’s ribs poked out tight.

Summer wore on and turned into fall,
The Herefords and Angus were ready to haul,
The grass was gone and turned into meat,
But the Shorthorn was too little to eat.

We trust the neighbors but to save a battle,
We mend our fences and brand our cattle.
Still this runty Shorthorn was way too little,
To string up for the hot iron sizzle.

Besides, she warn’t much ‘a temptation,
To a fellow of the rustler vocation,
This heifer was skinny, long and lank,
Red eyed, ornery, bad tempered and rank.

Still skinny, ornery and rank as she was,
It came time to apply the brand to her fuzz.
Hold it, right shoulder, burn it to stay.
The registered brand of the Quarter Circle K.

We roped that bally face ‘bout the neck,
One rope on top and a second below deck,
She pulled and pushed and got real wild,
Nowhere close to meek and mild.

When she crashed it made a terrible thud,
Holding her down there in the mud,
We got her strung up and all throwed down,
But to finish the job there’d be one more round.

As the brandin’ smoke rose in the air,
The less the heifer the ropin’ could bear.
She broke right down and fell on her rump,
No breathin’ at all, just a big bovine lump.

To the best we could reckon, we did surmise,
She must be dead from the glaze in her eyes.
Was she really dead? We hastened to ask,
But dared not answer ‘fore we finished our task.

The brand in the coals was evenly roastin’,
From grey to red her hide for a toastin’,
To singe the hair and cook the hide,
Mid right shoulder on the starboard side.

On came the gloves to pull out the brand,
Out of the flames, grey hot it did land,
Onto the hide of the carcass that lay,
The registered brand of the Quarter Circle K.

The burnin’ stench of hide and hair,
Wafted through the springtime air,
Penetratin’ nostrils of quick and dead.
In every human and bovine head.

It happened then with a powerful jerk,
The cow lurched to life and woke with a spurt,
She jumped in the air to escape her demise,
That wild-eyed spark was reborn in her eyes.

Before she landed the lassos let fly,
Droppin’ to earth as they fell from the sky,
Off flew the lariats and she dashed on her way…
Such was resurrection on the Quarter Circle K.

A Hereford cross with my Idaho cattle brand, the Lazy Quarter Circle K

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