Branding in Montana
Malta, Montana – I knew I was back in America when the clerk at Alaska Airlines asked me for $75 for the three bags we had stowed underneath the small two prop plane we took from Seattle to Great Falls. I was surprised at first, but I should have known better.
The flight was uneventful save for the mixed-up seats and the cowboy hats. We flew over the Cascades and then down into the Great Plains of America. For as far as the eye could see there was nothing but brown grass and an occasional tree line that appeared along the river bank. We landed with a small bump, the last flying leg of our journey.
We were greeted by my two daughters and my grandchild Leeila. She still hasn't gotten used to me and it has been 10 days now. Of course, she immediately took to my wife and every other human on the planet except for her old Grandpa. Well, time will tell.
The long, three hour drive to Malta was next, and time seemed to fly as we caught up on all the family news. The biggest news was my number one daughter was in the family way and will be due in early December. Number two daughter will be a massage therapist after she passes her exams. We hope she can visit Borneo sometime in October.
We did not have much time to settle before the branding started. I had wanted my wife to see this unusual event which takes place throughout Northeast Montana. She could also participate as wrestler. But let me explain.
The cowboys go out on the range and herd the cows toward a pen that is set up with movable rails. The calves are then separated from the mothers and are assembled into the enclosures. A cowboy then goes in and ropes the back two legs of the calf and drags him out. Meanwhile, a cacophony of bellowing mothers and calves sends up a deafening bawl where you practically had the yell at the next person to you.
The wrestlers then wrestle the calf to the ground. This is not an easy task, as strong high school students are usually employed for this job. I saw a few having the local high school wrestling team in worn out t-shirts. One person sits at the head end while the second person sticks one leg up the rump and the other over the back of the calf.
Now immobile, the calf is ready for the myriad of things ready to be done to him or her, as the case may be. Not performed in any particular order, the calf is branded in a wave of stink where the hair burns as the brand is applied. A person with a needle gun (I guess that's what they call it) vaccinates the animal and stripes it with a piece of chalk.
The males are then castrated with a knife. The testicle and assorted cords are stripped from the body. The testicles, now known as "Rocky Mountain Oysters" are collected in any handy bucket. Some are barbecued on the grill and the cowboys eat them as they work. The calf is then released to rejoin its mother. On a good day, all of this takes about 60-90 seconds.
Bewildered at first, my wife Suriani followed the events and it took her about three brandings before she would participate with wrestling on a small group of calves about a month old compared with others who were a waist-size three months old.
When the procedures were finished, the horses were loaded up into trailers, the branding irons were allowed to cool and the propane tanks, used to make the fire for the irons, were hauled back to the ranch.
Following the branding, all of the cowboys and cow ladies would assemble at the farm house for a feast. The menu for the one I attended included roast turkey, ham, Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni salad, fruit salad and other salads I forgot about. Deserts included homemade ice cream, lemon pie and eight other deserts I am not familiar with since I have been in Malaysia for so long. We have another branding to attend on Saturday, which will be a long day as there are a lot of calves to be processed.
...Life is good. . . . .