I love roundup time. In Heartbreak Trail, Chad actually lets my nephew Levi and I help out by flushing the cattle from brush and little draws.
So, do you know what a roundup is? Well, the simple definition is: an activity where you gather up the livestock (either cattle or horses) so you can brand them, count them, and sell them. In this post, I'll talk about branding the new calves.
On the Circle C, the cattle are usually rounded up in the spring, so the new calves can get branded. Ouch! First off, the ranch hands have to separate all those babies from their mothers. The calves don't like it much (and neither do the mama cows). There is so much noise you can't think straight. Cows mooing, calves bellowing. But it's exciting.
Once the calves for that day have been sorted out, the ranch hands rope the calves (their back legs) and drag them to the fire. Yep, a fire is going out in the open. Once the calf is being held down good and tight, a ranch hand takes the branding iron (a metal rod with our ranch's brand on the end: A "C" with a circle around it), makes sure it's good and hot from sitting in the fire, and then pushes the hot iron into the calf's backside.
It smells terrible, but it doesn't hurt the calf as much as I used to think. They've got thick hides.
Then, quick as a wink, that little calf is let up, and off he races--you wouldn't know he'd even been branded--back to his mama. But how he can tell which cow is HIS mother I've not figured out yet. When there are hundreds and hundreds of cows standing around bawling, they all look alike to me.
So, why go to all this trouble once--or maybe even twice--a year? A burned mark in the cow's hide is the only way to tell who it belongs to. There aren't any fences way out on the thousands of acres of rangeland, and sometimes all the ranchers' cattle get mixed in together. But that's OK. Come fall roundup, the ranchers sort everybody's cattle out and give them back.
Branding also discourages rustlers from being too brave. If somebody is caught with a cow, one look at the brand will let the sheriff know who the cow really belongs to. This also works well with horses. And since horse-stealing is a hanging offense, it keeps most horse thieves either honest or very, very careful about which horses they try to steal.
Here is a sample of some different types of branding irons and the "mark" they make when burned into livestock: