Spring Branding in the Year of COVID19

Written by Maggie Hanna

The sun peaks over the eastern horizon. Horses are saddled and loaded in the trailer. We pile into the truck, riding three across the bench seat. Trucks and trailers rattle down a long dirt driveway, leaving dust hanging in the air; we are headed for a distant set of pens.  Excitement fills the cab of the truck. It’s spring, and we are headed to a neighbor’s ranch to help brand their calves, just as they will return the favor in a few weeks to help us. These are work days we all enjoy.

This year is different. This year, we are unsure about what these gatherings will mean; we are trying to heed the advice of our industry associations, attempting to find the delicate balance of social distance while showing up to work with and for our neighbors.

I swing my leg over my little grey horse, fresh from the cool morning air, and ride to meet the crew. On any other day we would greet each other with a hand shake or a hug, but today we hold back. A tiny gesture, but it punches me in the gut.  These work days are important for getting calves branded, castrated, ear marked, and vaccinated, but they are also the fabric of community. These work days remind us that this work happens together, not alone. These work days allow us to check in and check on one another.

We are all handling COVID19 restrictions differently. We have different ideas of what is best for our families and communities, but the work still exists.  For weeks leading up to our first branding, my cousin and I brainstormed ways to limit exposure. Should we use nord forks, or find a calf table; should we just limit the size of the crew or the number of calves processed each day; are we able to feed friends and neighbors who come to help?

The ground crew stands quietly watching the ropers as we wait for the next calf. We are quiet and anxious. All for different reasons. It is hot and dry and only the second week of May. Some of us are hoping to see the country reopened, while others are fearful for those more at risk among us. We are all nervous about the cattle market, commodity markets, and for the future of an industry we hold as our identity.

For many of us, quarantine has meant little more than fewer trips to the grocery store. We have been busy calving, getting irrigation water turned on, and equipment tuned up.  I know the days we can lounge around a set of pens after a hot day working cattle with a Coors beer and plenty of belly laughs will roll around soon, but today isn’t that day. Here’s to the men and women who are going to get the work done, no matter what it takes.

All of the photos in this blog are from brandings this spring and were provided by Maggie Hanna.