Although we don’t live in an area which requires livestock to be branded, my husband brands ours, to make it more difficult for others to steal them. In 2005, he managed to brand himself while trying to brand a calf single handedly. He was taking care of the few calves that were not yet born when he had help that spring with the older calves. Apparently he was holding the 100 lb calf down with a foot and his left hand, while trying to use his right hand to brand the calf. A swift kick from the calf sent the hot iron into my husband’s tricep, leaving a blotched version of our brand. I say if he was going to brand himself, the least he could have done was make a nice readable brand.

Husband takes care of upwards of 80 cattle by himself, with no horse and usually no help. The only way you can make that work is by being calm and quiet when working the cattle. Although my husband and I were both raised on cattle ranches, we did not learn this particular handling method from our fathers, it came later in life, with experience. After the branding episode, Husband invested in what is called a calf cradle, which is a smaller version of the cattle chute used for mature cattle. It restrains the calf so you can work with it safely. The calf version also has the added option of flipping the calf on his side, so you can work with it from a more ergonomical angle.

I was six months pregnant with my son, Leo, when Husband asked me to help him work the remaining six calves in the calf cradle. He assured me that it would be safe, and I would not be in any danger of having my stomach kicked. I was running the headgate and he was pushing them in from behind. All I had to do was wait for the critter to push his head through the catch and then pull a lever, to tighten the headgate. Now, Husband grew up using one of these contraptions, but I was only familiar in theory with how they worked on calves. I grew up with horses and ropes to work calves, while my husband’s family was one of the very first to use three-wheelers to move their herd. The first calf through found a “hole” in between the alley way and the cradle to escape through. Husband said, “no biggie, that was the heifer, I can remember that.” The second calf climbed out of the top of the alley way and escaped, still not my fault at this point. I said, “that was number 22, I can remember that.” The third one went right through the headgate, because I wasn’t expecting him to make it all the way though to me, and I didn’t get him caught fast enough. By that time we were laughing pretty hard. We managed to get the other three branded, then rounded up the first three and worked them too. Husband made the alley way a little tighter and taller before he worked the rest of the herd. What a pleasure to work cattle with someone who expects things to go wrong, and doesn’t yell when they do.