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Cattle branding, ancient Egypt and cowboy lingo

Erica Louder for Progressive Cattleman Published on 04 May 2018
The Louder's CE cattle brand

Branding cattle is a tradition (and practical measure) that dates back as far as the ancient Egyptians, but for most Americans the tradition is immortalized in Western movies as a symbol of the Old West.

Today, we continue the practice for the same reasons as those cowboys and Egyptians, but I imagine with considerably less deference to the gods. Brands are used to identify and as a legal mark of ownership. With a renaissance of cattle rustling, branding your cattle is as important as ever.

For many ranches, branding day is looked forward to with an almost party-like anticipation. Neighbors are summoned, potato salads are prepared, horses are saddled and calves are gathered. Bright and early the process begins, with the mandatory lunch break that Grandma brings in the back of her old farm truck. And, if you are lucky, dinner might even consist of the “fruits” of your labor, aka Rocky Mountain oysters.

When it actually comes to the branding, we have probably all seen a few different processes. The good ol’ boys still prefer to rope and stretch the calves between two horses. The newcomers (like us) like the practicality of a chute and a calf table. The maverick operations use beefy teenagers to catch and flank calves. For experts, the calves are branded, vaccinated, castrated in less time than it takes the average cowboy to pull on their boots. Really, it is quite an art.

Speaking of art, the design of the brand pressed into a calf was probably the brainchild of some creative soul in the family. Knowing that brand may continue on for generations puts some pressure on the brand creator to give some deference to style. The options in creating a brand are nearly endless. Of course, there are letters and numbers that can be incorporated, but there also are spades and triangles, diamonds and wine cups, hearts and even arrows to consider. They could have wings so they are flying or feet and they are walking. They could be tilted to be crazy or flat so they are lazy. The combinations are endless, and the lingo that has evolved to describe them is comical. Only cowboys could come up with such a menagerie of images that have come to symbolize our ranches.

I remember my father designing our family brand. It was with conservable angst that he developed the cursive “C-Z” that symbolized a ram’s horn followed by a lowercase Z. This was in characterization of our last name, Ramsey. Meanwhile, my father-in-law’s brand, while generational, was more practical than creative. It is J – L, indicating the initials of his grandfather. When it came time to develop our brand, my husband and I gave some thought to creativity but settled on simple. It is a CE, quarter circle. It represents each of our first names, Craig and Erica.

Whatever your brand, send those cattle to the mountains, out to pasture or to the desert with confidence in a system that has not been replaced in over 4,000 years. Despite their affinity for wearing makeup, those Egyptian kings knew what was important – their cattle. Happy branding season!  end mark

PHOTO: The quarter-circle CE brand is the start of a new generation operation. Photo by Erica Louder.

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