Branding: A Western Tradition

I’ve been wanting to write an article about branding for quite some time but just never got around to writing it. Well, I really started thinking about how I was going to write this article when I looked on the wall street journal and say this article: In a Beef Over Branding. This article made it clear that it was time to write the story of western branding because the USDA is trying to control another industry and saying it’s going to “help” the American people, but all it’s going to do is open the flood gates for more government control and higher beef prices.

First off, I would like to explain the differences between eastern ranchers and western ranchers. Most people from the east cannot understand why we must brand our cattle because the people back east don’t have to brand theirs, and this is why: In the east all the land is private, whereas a large portion of the land out west is owned by the government. The government then leases this land out to whoever is interested leasing this vast plots of land, typically this land is leased by ranches who have been running cattle on this land long before the government came in and started controlling it. These plots of lands are called allotments, but these are not just a couple acres, we are talking about thousands of acres of land. For instance where we live it’s the high desert, so it takes a lot more land to feed one cow then it does in the areas back east where rain is abundant and so is the grass. There is a limited number of cows allowed on each allotment, typically several neighbors will all be combined on one allotment, so if you have 3 neighbors running all their cows in the same field as your cows and you all own similar looking cows, then how are you supposed to tell them apart? This is where the west is different from the east, in the east all the land is privately owned, so if someone owns cows they expect their cows to stay on their own property and every now and then a cow might jump a fence, but it’s easy to retrieve.

However, when we turn our cows out we might not see them for over a month! A cow can cover a lot of ground in a month and get lost, jump a fence or even get stolen by rustlers. What is the easiest and most effective way to protect ourselves from losing cows? This is where branding is essential.

A brand is permanent. Period.

Once you brand a cow that brand will be with that cow till the day that cow dies. If you by another cow from someone (who has a brand already on the cow) you have to have record that you bought that cow from that person. Ear tags are not permanent. Cows can easily lose their ear tag by scratching up against things or just the wearing out of an old ear tag. We still ear tag all our cows because it makes it easy to keep records of the cows, but we don’t depend on the ear tags when we are out gathering cows because you can’t see numbers at a far distance, but you can see brands. We also ear mark our cows which means when we brand the calf we make an a unique cut in their ear as another form of recognition. Once again ear marks can be easily changed, if someone wants to change an ear marking they can simply cut the ear in another shape. You cannot change a brand. It’s possible to add another brand but you can hide the original brand. Currently, this is how cows out west are protected from rustlers and easily sold because it is proof of ownership of the cow. When we go sell the cows at a auction we have to get a certified brand inspection before the cow can be sold to prove ownership of the cow.

During a branding we also give vaccines, castrate bull calves, dehorn and brand. The branding season is a great time of year for ranchers. It’s a lot of work to brand several hundred calves in a day but it is a community gathering. We eat a big lunch and visit with all the neighbors and catch up with each other. For hundreds of years the branding corral has been a gathering place for ranchers to come together and learn from each other and keep the helping spirit. Where we live we don’t pay each other to help at branding’s. We help the neighbors and the neighbors help us and we have a great time.Branding is not just something that we do for the sake of doing it, but it’s also a western tradition, just like rodeo’s. The USDA wants ranchers to start putting in unique ear tags to each cow so that they can be tracked wherever they are shipped. Well, we already put unique ear tags in our cows so if someone were to ask us about a cow and her number we would be able to tell you about her. It’s the idea of the government stepping in and wanting to be able to track the animals themselves. In capitalism if people are producing poor products then they will eventually be put out of business. If you buy your beef from a store and get sick and have no idea where it came from it, it can typically be tracked back to the feedlot that the animal came from, not the ranch. Don’t buy stuff that you can’t trust, so if you are afraid of ecoli or other diseases that are sometimes found in beef products, then know where your food is coming from! If you want to know where your beef is coming from then buy beef from a local rancher and have a relationship with that rancher.

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