May 20, 2016

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Branding season is upon us! Which means the cowboy tradition of “calf mugging” aka the tried-and-true way to safely get a calf on its side after it’s been roped and then restrain it during branding, vaccinations, ear tagging, etc. without getting kicked in the head or burned by a searing hot iron — becomes a VERY important skill. In other words, we’re all about that mug life on the Chico these days.

I’m a newbie to brandings and have been anxiously anticipating partaking in the ranch festivities this spring — riding out at dawn with the branding posse to gather the pairs, helping officially initiate the new calves into the Chico herd, watching the “big girls” — our draft mares Ruby & Raven — pull the branding wagon and OF COURSE, sitting in the dirt & eating LOTS of beans with the crew. Could there be anything more glorious?!

But like any freshman on the team, I am getting my butt kicked pretty good while I learn the ropes. And I do mean ropes — as in you gotta always keep your hand on the rope as you head towards the calf and don’t let go or the calf might end up running straight for the branding fire and almost become a flaming ball of baby bovine. (Yes that did happen, but luckily Apprentice Eric saved the day.)

But by the end of a hot, dusty day — you do get better. The whole ground crew settles into a rhythm with the ropers on horseback and suddenly we’re busting through calves like a well-oiled machine. Or at the very least, a very well-beaned one.

By Chico Basin intern Becca Frucht

Photography by Madeline Jorden