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Motor homes and used cows

James Beckham for Progressive Cattleman Published on 27 March 2019
beef cows on pasture

I passed an old motor home on the highway the other day with a bumper sticker that read “Mamaw and Papaw’s playhouse.” Randomly plastered on the sides and rear end of the motor home was a large collection of “official state stickers” (purchased at the same places that sell “official state souvenir spoons.”) That motor home looked an awful lot like some of the cows we see at the sale barn.

That snaggle-horned cow looks good – straight back, good body condition and tight bag. You could remove six or eight of the tags from her left ear and maybe take out the belly-button ring, but the collection of tattoos she is wearing won’t go away. Used cows are always well marked. You can see the nine brands on her left side as she goes by, but your brand goes on the right. What if the right side looks like the left? Where are you going to put your brand if you are the lucky buyer? Ah, the price looks right, so what the heck?

In Texas, brands are registered with the county. With 254 counties in the state, there might be a chance of duplication, I suppose. If your neighbor, Jake, hasn’t registered that Double J-Bar A-K – Lazy Rocking E brand you have your heart set on, the county will let you have it. In New Mexico, where we ranch, it’s a different matter.

New Mexico cattle brands are issued by the state. While you might have a chance of getting your long-desired Double J-Bar A-K – Lazy Rocking E brand, a single-burn brand is nigh impossible to get in New Mexico. All the single-burn brands and most of the double-burn versions were issued decades ago, and the families that own them aren’t giving them up. Even waving a lot of money at one of those single-burn brands won’t work, I am told.

A bit of trivia for you brand aficionados: In 1598, the hot-iron brand was first introduced into New Mexico by Don Juan de Onate. He trailed 7,000 head of branded cattle from the Mexican state of Chihuahua to “San Juan De Los Caballeros,” near present day Santa Fe, New Mexico.

If you are looking for a particular brand or letter combination in New Mexico, the state brand office will do its best to accommodate you. However, you may have to add something artistic to your brand request by throwing in a design from the catalog of New Mexico allowable brand characters. Choose from categories that include “dishes,” “implements” and “food” (snow cone, really?), or something from the “general topics” category like a spaceship or safety pins.

So where on a used cow are you going to put that Double J-Bar A-K – Lazy Rocking E? It’s hard enough to find somewhere to place a two- or three-burn brand on a used cow, but when the state tells you exactly where that brand has to be applied, it gets even more challenging.

One of my New Mexico brand cards (“this card must be presented when transacting business involving your livestock”) says the brand must be applied “LRC NFH.” (Left Rib Cattle, No Flying Horses? I’ve never really understood that second part.) The state brand guide says, “Brands are read from left to right, top to bottom or outside to inside.” No mention of flying horses.

But back to the problem at hand. Just where do you put the brand on a used cow that has at least two brands where the state says you have to apply your burn? To the left? Nope, there’s one-and-a-half brands there. To the right? Same problem. Above the 2-foot tall “XYZ123” brand? Below the Walmart bar code centered on the left side? The right tip of the rocker and the front of the B on my state-assigned brand sometimes wrap around the cow’s backbone.

Other times, after I avoid the Walmart bar code, the only way for the brand inspector to read the brand is to lie on his back. While he is down there, he can admire the girl’s belly button ring, too.  end mark

James Beckham is a writer and commercial Angus producer in Amarillo, Texas.

PHOTO: Photo by Paul Marchant.

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