Branding Day

By Violet Suta Moran

Aerial view showing the main buildings of the Suta ranch.

Branding was not a happy time for those on the receiving end but I remember it as an exciting day when I was a child expecting visitors and lots of action on our Montana ranch.

First thing to do was to herd 30 or 40 calves from the pasture into a corral. separating them from their mothers, and they weren’t willing to leave her side. Pop chased the cattle in his pickup truck refusing to use a horse because long ago he and a horse had an accident.. All the rest of us were on foot, running and shouting and waving our arms with a couple of dogs barking, the cattle mooing and Pop blowing his horn. This was noisy and dusty work in our dry-land country,

I would climb up and perch on the top of the corral to watch. My three older brothers would all run after one calf trying to trap it into a corner so they could get a rope around its neck. I thought it was funny when the calf kept escaping from their grasp and they had to continue running around the corral. Pop would get impatient and yell at the boys, “Get that goddamn calf over here,” as if they weren’t trying to do that. My brothers were glad when Uncle Gilbert relieved them. He was a real cowboy who could lasso the calves instead of chasing them around the corral.

Once a calf was caught, it was thrown down onto its side. It was held in place with one person leaning back on the rope around its neck and another person sitting down at the rear to control the back legs. The man at the rear got kicked and shit upon. This was one time I was glad to be different than my brothers because my job was to help in the house instead!

A calf being held down, one person giving a vaccination, and smoke coming from the hide as the calf is being branded.

Henry remembers me bringing morning break out to the men, only to be scared and chased by the mama cows who were mad as hell at everybody for hurting their babies.

Pop always did the branding himself, knowing the brand would be visible to anybody and wanting it to look good. The hot branding iron had to be held in place just the right amount of time to scorch the brand permanently onto the leather hide. If the iron wasn’t held flat for a long enough time, hair would grow back on the hide and obliterate the brand. Making a perfect brand wasn’t easy with the calf bucking and moving despite being held.

The temperature of the branding iron was a big factor in making a good brand. If the iron was too hot it would burn too deeply into the skin and could start a fire that might disfigure the brand, When the iron was not hot enough it had to be held in place a longer time, making the brand messy as the calf didn’t lay still for this.

Heating the irons was a special skill taken very seriously by Grandpa Lozing. He had to tend the fire carefully to have hot coals without too much flame and he had to move the irons around to get them heated just right.

The noise of the day continued until everything was done. The calves were bawling for their mothers who were bellowing back. Pop was shouting and cussing about everything and at everybody. Those not holding down a calf were busy trying to catch the next, chasing around the corral and yelling. Corral gates were being quickly banged open and closed. The pungent smell of fresh manure was mingled with the acrid smell of the burning hair and hide.

Our brand was registered by Pop as “lazy T H bar” honoring his first two sons, Ted and Henry. As my brother Ben said, “The cattle are lucky we weren’t all six children born yet.”

© 2021 Violet Suta Moran

Violet grew up on a farm in Montana just 8 miles from the Canadian border and about 70 miles east of Glacier Park. After getting a degree in nursing at Montana State University in Bozeman, she literally picked Madison, Wisconsin off the map as the first place she was going “on my trip around the world.” Delayed by marriage, 3 children and administrative positions in facilities including University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, trips to many different countries came later. For the last 20 years before retiring, Violet ran her own nurse consulting business. In retirement she enjoys travel, dance, and jazz, often in combination.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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