A few weeks ago, the 701x team had the opportunity to head out west to our testing facility in the Badlands of North Dakota. We were able to experience some aspects in the life of a rancher by assisting our Ranch Manager Brock, with branding cattle. This was a new experience for most of our team members and we were all very excited to learn about the ranch and work hands-on with the cattle.
We headed out to the ranch bright and early in the morning. Before we arrived, Brock had already gathered and organized the cow-calf pairs by separating them into different pens to keep things organized and simplify the process a bit.
In small groups, we directed the adult cows and yearling heifers through an alley with a squeeze-chute system at the end. The alley allowed us to organize and line up the animals and lead them to the chute. One cow at a time entered the squeeze-chute system, which is designed to restrain the animal efficiently and safely in a standing position to receive their brand and required vaccinations. Restraining the animal in the chute reduces the risk of injury to the animals and those who are handling them.
Branding is a permanent technique used to claim ownership of livestock and has been used for hundreds of decades – dating back to the early Egyptians. Each rancher has their own unique, and custom-made brand that is used on all their cattle. Custom brands were designed to differentiate one ranch’s cattle from another’s. Traditional hot branding uses a hot iron that is heated with wood or coal fire. We used a more modern way which involves an electric branding iron.
The branding process only lasts a few moments or until the hair on the hide has been removed. The brand leaves each cow with a clear, permanent scar in the shape of a unique symbol. The vaccines are administered simultaneously with the brand to increase efficiency and minimize the time spent with each animal.
After each cow had gone through the chute, they were released and directed to a separate pen where they stayed until every cow was done.
After taking a break to cool off, grab some snacks, hydrate, and chat, we moved onto a bit more challenging task – working with the calves. The calves were rounded up in small groups and were directed into a branding pen. Since the calves are significantly smaller than their mothers, the alley and chute system could no longer be used as is it is only designed to hold large cattle.
Brock gave us all a demonstration on how to correctly catch a calf, flank it, and how to hold it down in the proper position to ensure appropriate branding and vaccine placement. Afterward, the calf wrestling began. 701x team members were eager to start and quickly figured the technique out. Each calf got branded, vaccinated, marked, and castrated if it was a bull. Castrating of the calves was done by Brock as he is the most knowledgeable and has the most experience doing this. The testicles were collected in a cooler to later be served.
Wrestling a calf works best in teams. First, one individual takes hold of a calf's back leg, making the calf unbalanced and challenging for them to run away or stay upright. Another individual is then responsible for reaching under the neck and flank of the calf to lift and bring it to the ground. Once the calf is on the ground, one person kneels on the calf’s neck to keep it from getting back up and the other person sits on the ground behind the calf. The individual on the backend extends a back leg of the calf and holds it against the ground while maintaining a firm grip on the other leg that is off the ground and pulling it back towards their chest. This keeps the calf restrained and makes things a whole lot easier for the brander, those who are administering vaccines, and Brock for castration if the calf is a male.
Wrestling calves may seem like an easy task but taking down 200–250-pound animals takes a lot of energy out of you!
When we were about halfway through working with the calves, we took another break to get out of the heat and have some lunch together to gain additional energy for round two. We ate, hydrated even more, and chatted about the experience so far. It was interesting to learn about the ranchers and to hear their personal stories/experiences and about their life on the ranch. We munched on a variety of foods from juicy pulled pork sandwiches to delicious homemade monster cookies. We were all very thankful to have a wonderful meal provided for us during our time at the ranch.
After we were cooled off, we headed back out to the branding pen to finish the second half of the calves. This time, we used a different technique to catch the calves that was a little less physically draining, which consisted of roping calves. Other local ranchers came to help with the entire branding process and brought their horses as well to assist in roping the calves. While on their horse, they would corner calves to one side of the pen and would lasso their back legs to capture and restrain them. Then they would drag them to the other side of the pen where wrestlers were lined up and ready to restrain the calves and put them in the proper position to receive a brand and vaccinations. This process seemed much easier (for the wrestlers at least) and is a more traditional way of handling the calves.
A sigh of relief filled the air as the last calf was branded. The calves were released back to their mothers and then sent out to pasture. In total, we branded 135 cow-calf pairs and 24 yearling heifers. We cleaned up all the supplies that were used throughout the day and were able to sit, relax, and eat once again.
I had mentioned previously that the testicles of the male calves were collected in a cooler. ‘Rocky Mountain oysters’ are considered a ‘branding delicacy’ and are typically served as an appetizer after a hard day's work. They are simply cleaned, seasoned, spiced to your liking, fried, and served. A majority of 701x team members tried them and said that they ‘taste like chicken’; I think I’d have to disagree!
Overall, it was a great experience for the 701x team to better understand a rancher’s duties and work together in a different setting. We are all grateful for this unique experience, and we all have many stories and memories to share.
Throughout our commute to and from the ranch, there were countless times where cattle were roaming free in the open pastures and on the roadways, miles away from any homestead. The roaming cows could be seen as an easy target for thieves as they are under minimal to no surveillance. Because the pastures are so large and extend so far, an animal jumping a fence or multiple animals escaping a broken or compromised fence could go unnoticed for a long period of time. The animals could also easily lose their way and venture onto someone else’s property, far from home.
We were able to easily see how big of a difference it would make for ranchers to implement our GPS ear tags into their day-to-day operations. Our smart ranching technology is highly beneficial for ranchers and their herd as it would allow them to proactively take control and monitor their herd without being physically present.