Community Agriculture Alliance: Branding a time-honored, necessary tradition |

Community Agriculture Alliance: Branding a time-honored, necessary tradition

Krista Monger/For Steamboat Today

It is the time of year when nearby ranches are branding the new crop of calves. It is a celebration of a successful calving season, a time-worthy tradition and a labor-intensive day filled with help from family and friends. Why do we do it?

The main reason: It's the law. According to C.R.S. 35-53-105, a brand inspection is required every time an animal (horses, cattle, mules and donkeys) is sold or purchased, when livestock is to be transported more than 75 miles or anytime livestock leaves the state.

When ranchers sell their weaned calves in the fall, they must have the owner's brand on them. Anytime an inspection is needed, a state of Colorado brand inspector comes to look at the brand of each animal that is leaving the premises. In Routt County, that man is Darrin Cleaver. After inspection, he gives the owner paperwork to hand to the next owner showing the transfer of ownership.

Is it really necessary? Yes. In 2012, Monty Pilgrim, of Moffat County, was found guilty of cattle rustling. He found some "stray cows," bred them and sold their calves. The calves bore his brand, but the cows didn't. Pilgrim was eventually found out when inspectors went to look at the brands on his mother cows.

The other reason: tradition. Most branding affairs are big events everyone looks forward to. There are multiple methods to branding. Roping each calf is one way and requires skilled ropers. A calf table — a small chute that pivots to lay them on their side — is another method and requires a lot of time. Legging calves — grabbing the back leg and wrestling them onto their side — requires strong, agile people. Calves at branding time usually weight between 80 and 120 pounds, thus ranchers need help, and they invite family and friends. Oftentimes, neighbors will help each other. You help me brand my calves, I'll help you brand yours.

Along with tradition is history. Most ranchers have a brand with a story behind it. My parents’ brand, Larry and Mary Kay Monger, belonged to Larry's great grandfather, Frank Johnson, of Brookston, near the confluence of the Elk and Yampa River. He gave it to his grandson, Johnny Monger, who, in turn, gave it to his nephew, Larry. The brand is "H connected T" and was first registered in December 1899, one of the first brands registered in Routt County.

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My husband and I have a brand, too. It is an offshoot of my parent's brand, which allows us to use the same branding iron. We have been researching a brand of our own, but it's not easy. Each brand must be registered with the State Board of Stock Inspection, and they won't rubber stamp just anything. The application process includes extensive research to see if the brand is already in use or if it is too similar to one already registered. Once the brand is accepted, fees must be paid to keep it current.

Branding is a time-honored tradition in the Western United States. We do our best to make it as humane as possible, but the fact is, we must do it. New or old, every cow owner needs a brand. What would yours look like?

Krista Monger is president of Routt County Cattlewomen.