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No days off for farmers and ranchers

Photos by Sarah McNaughton Sarah McNaughton assisting at their annual branding.
BRANDING DAYS: While some enjoy a long weekend to relax, many ranchers and farmers fit in other annual activities during a holiday. Here, I’m helping with branding at the Fredericksons’ ranch in Granville, N.D.
Many of us recently enjoyed a long Memorial Day weekend; unfortunately, cows don’t observe holidays.

Over Memorial Day weekend, many people can be found opening their lake cabins, paying respects to military individuals who gave the ultimate sacrifice or simply enjoying the three-day weekend. For those who ranch, this long weekend might just be the time to work harder.

Gathering cattle, moving pastures or even conducting their annual branding was on the schedule for many ranchers. We had the chance to help some friends at their branding over the holiday.

Annual branding

Our group headed out to Granville, N.D., early in the morning to assist with branding calves. Some brought their ranch or roping horses to catch calves and pull them to the fire, while some were ready to hold, castrate or administer medication to calves.

If you’ve ever attended a branding, you know it’s an all hands-on deck affair. Friends, family and neighbors come to sort, gather, tag, brand or do anything else needed. If you aren’t roping on horseback, you’re on the ground ready to hold calves while they receive their brand and any treatments. Kids had jobs, too, spraying antiseptic on fresh brands or standing at the gate to make sure no un-branded calves snuck through.

All of this work happened in just under six hours, but the ranch family had been preparing for it much longer. This included sorting cow-calf pairs into groups, gathering the pairs into pens in the pasture, making sure branding irons and supplies were ready, and having a plan to get it all done — not to mention planning food and beverages for the crew.

a person branding a calf

Brandings require many hands and a lot of hard work, and everyone does their part to get the job done.

While many of us helping got to go home and call it a day, the family continues their work each and every day to put beef on our tables. Production agriculture is a full-time job, at times requiring 24/7 attention and 365 days a year of work. The number of hours that cattle ranchers put in especially astound me, with calving, weaning, branding, gathering, doctoring and everything else that goes on into a normal year. There are few people I’ve seen more passionate about their work than cattle ranchers.

Dedicated and passionate

Through ups and downs in the market, drought and natural disasters, and attacks from many who favor a plant-based diet, the ranchers stand strong with pride in their cattle. I find that cattle and all livestock are a different type of production agriculture, in that the ranchers have live animals that they are caring for.

These cattle have minds of their own, which sometimes can make work more difficult for ranchers. For example, pushing its head through the fence to reach a green clump of weeds, the cow never considered it might get its head stuck. Or wanting to get more hay, it ends up inside the feeder.

While I work in agriculture, I’ve never been the one who grows or feeds the population, the one who stays up long hours to check on newborn calves, or the one hoping the crop gets rain. If you are one of these individuals, thank you for dedicating your lives to feeding people you might not even know. If you aren’t, be sure to thank the next farmer or rancher you meet.



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