Branding Day From A Greenhorn’s Perspective: Cattle, Hot Irons, Community, and Family
By Skyler McAllister of Fireside Copywriting
Family Friend & Branding Day Volunteer
The road is a winding, rocky, and well worn path down to the cattle grounds that are stationed just below Carbondale. Just off in the distance the Roaring Fork River churns as the surrounding valley sinks into the depths below the mountains. We find ourselves encased in vibrant colors, with massive red walls in the distance, sprawling green fields below, and cascading blue skies above. We take in the views, and with each bump in the road we are reminded of the long-standing history of the Roaring Fork Valley. As the truck tires tread along the path, we take care to weave in and out of the small craters in the dirt that were dug deep into the earth by years of use.
The slow roll through is enough to kick up small swirls of dust along the path, agitating the history within the land. The road includes several checkpoints along the way in the form of sturdy gates, that when swung open announce their presence with rusted cheers. They only impede the truck’s progress for a moment, as they are swung open to let the truck through before being chained shut again. The journey ends when the volume of the cows calling out in the distance hits the peak in a crescendo of mothers calling to their calves; the calves calling back to their moms.
We park our truck amongst a row of trucks, tractors, trailers, and other various equipment just outside the corral where the calves are being held. As the truck settles into a parking space, the engine is lulled to sleep with a turn of the key. Off in the distance a group of people adorned with dirt splotched cowboy hats, tucked-in button down shirts, rugged jeans, and broken in boots, are working to pull calves into a smaller corral, about four at a time. The sound of the branding irons being kept hot in the background adds to the noise and controlled chaos of the day. With around a couple hundred calves to brand, we know we have a good day's worth of work ahead of us. The goal is simple, yet the process takes concerted effort: with two people holding a calf down, there are at least a few others circling the groups to administer shots, tie on rubber bands where necessary, and brand the calves with artistic precision. Considering that this is just the beginning of our day, it becomes clear that Branding Day, and ranching in general, is a massive undertaking that requires impressive work and resolute dedication.
Branding Day represents much more than cattle being, well, branded. Every April, Branding Day represents a gathering of friends and family, and whether it is your first, second, or twentieth time out, you feel a strong sense of community that has been developed over the years. We know of people that fly or drive in from out of town, people from other ranches around the valley, generations of Nieslaniks, wives and girlfriends, and long-time family friends that commit to Branding Day to do whatever they can to help out. They show up because it’s worth it to help out a family that, year after year, raise their cattle in the best way possible.
There are people among the group that started helping out with Branding Day as kids, and now their kids are watching on and learning part of what it takes to create a successful cattle enterprise. In all their interest, there are even moments where the kids get a chance to participate; to jump into the pen and help hold down a kicking leg or two, or to simply hang around their dad’s neck to add an additional challenge to holding down a calf. It’s in these finer moments that Branding Day stands out in our mind, it’s a day to come together and celebrate family and friends, and the business that brings us all together at least once a year.
The hours of work put in during the day culminates in what can only be described as a ranch inspired feast back at the ranch house. Appetites are fierce at that point in the day, the adults typically gather around the amazing spread, looking like they just went through the wringer. Some even have their pant legs rolled up, airing out their freshly developed knee and shin bruises. Laughter and camaraderie reverberate off the walls of the ranch house as we dig in.
Off in the distance, Mt. Sopris highlights the views from the ranch as the day winds down, and as the kids continue to run circles around the house, the adults sink lower into their chairs. Branding Day is a long day, and it’s a long day well spent; the friends and family make sure of that.