In our automated society It's easy to lose sight of the way things used to be. Global efficiency is now the name of the game and genetically modified food and outsourcing dominate our national food supply. But living in Idaho we are fortunate to have access to some agricultural sectors that require a little grit and elbow grease to get the job done.
A few Saturdays ago, I stumbled upon a good ol' fashioned cattle branding in Homedale on the Wattersen Ranch. Being a true city slicker, I had no idea what I was in for. I expected it to be a fairly simple process--just marking cows for the slow train to the pneumatic hammer. It was a good deal more complex than I expected and in no way easy for an urbanite like me to watch.
The yearlings were rounded up by wranglers on horseback, tied, pinned and then subjected to what might be the most traumatic five minutes of their lives. These young heifers and bulls are vaccinated and have their ears clipped (the tips are cut off with a razor sharp knife), the bulls are castrated and then all of the cattle are marked with a piping-hot branding iron straight out of the fire.
As tough as this process was to watch for a first timer, it is a way of life on Wattersen Ranch. It was humbling to see this side of Idaho cattle ranching, and I am now considerably more conscious of what it takes to produce real Idaho beef.
After a few observational rounds, I jumped in the corral and pinned a few cows myself. It looked easy from the other side of the fence, but I assure you, it takes at least as much finesse as muscle to get the cow positioned correctly and safely.
After the cattle are branded, fixed, clipped and set loose in the corral, they take a few moments to process the experience, before going back to their normal cow lives. The process ensures that a proper head count is maintained on the ranch and that the cows are healthy for consumption.
All said and done, my trip to Homedale proved to be an informative and fun one. We were welcomed as friends, encouraged to participate in any element of the branding that we were comfortable with (apart from those strictly reserved for the veterinary and professional staff), and enjoyed a fantastic chili feast at the end of the day ... a true Idaho experience.