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Irons in the fire: Branding day hangover

Paul Marchant Published on 05 May 2015

As I suppose is the case with most ranches, branding time is a momentous occasion at our place each year. Despite the inevitable minor wrecks – like when 35 calves break and run just as you’re getting the tail-enders pushed into the branding trap – it’s one of those things that can be considered an event, rather than just another day.

We’re not quite as rank and “ranchy” as the big outfits, and it’s mostly a family affair, but things do get a little western, at times. Over the years, we have run a lot of calves through a calf chute and worn out a bunch of teenagers as they wrestle calves out of a small pen, but the preferred method is to rope and drag to the fire.

I’ve been to brandings where I hardly dare shake a loop out because I’m so out-classed by most of the ropers. That’s when you take the high road and offer to work the ground. My brother, sons and I are probably mediocre ropers on a good day, but since most of our crew is family and in-laws who come from out of town (just to be part of the event), the criticism is low, because we’re all we’ve got, and most of the crew doesn’t realize that we’re really not that good.

Despite a fair amount of cussing – usually a by-product of some level of ineptitude on the ropers’ part – we try to keep it as family friendly as possible. The closest thing you’ll find to whiskey at one of our brandings is a stiff Mountain Dew or Grandpa’s Pendleton wool coat. Although some folks may consider the lack of beverage variety to directly correlate with the decline in the enjoyment of the event, it seems to work well for us. And besides, one of our brandings last year provided enough non-alcohol induced hangovers to rival any northern Nevada buckaroo gathering.

Although my wife and mother usually plan a nice big beef and bean dinner for after the branding, they also make up a pile of sandwiches to tide everyone over during the course of the day. Before the last calf was turned back out to its mama on that fateful day, we’d probably gobbled up a couple dozen sliced ham and cheese sandwiches.

The next day was Sunday. One of my boys decided he felt sick, and thus, wanted to skip church. Simply because I wasn’t in the mood for the weekly fight, I acquiesced and let him stay home. Once at church, I found out from my mother that my dad was also playing hooky, because he too claimed to be sick. Later in the day, my oldest son called to tell us that both he and his wife were, as he delicately stated, “puking their guts out.” He also told us that his brother-in-law and several nieces and nephews, who had come to the branding from Boise and Vancouver, Washington, were apparently suffering from the same malady.

My sister called from Twin Falls to say that she, her husband and their three daughters had been “calling Ralph” all day. My wife caught the fever, as it were, on Sunday afternoon. I felt fine. And since I had no help and nobody was making any dinner, I, in all of my wisdom, grabbed a couple of the leftover ham sandwiches out of the cooler to eat for lunch as I drove through the cows and checked the water. I thanked my lucky stars and offered my sympathies to the stricken, poor suffering souls that they were.

I finished the chores just before dark, and about the time I walked in the house, still feeling no ill effects from whatever was ailing the masses, I felt a touch of queasiness. Not being one to panic, I figured I was just worn out, so I went into the dark bedroom to lie down. Within an hour, I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t live to see the sun rise.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t want to barf. In my world, there’s not much that can compare to the wretchedness of the whole vomiting process. I’d prefer getting kicked in the shins by the dentist to offering up my lunch. Nevertheless, this wasn’t my call. As the violent forces of nature seized my insides, I made a mad dash outside (because both bathrooms in the house were occupied by similarly affected individuals).

In the interest of full disclosure, I also wanted to spare my family members the unpleasant experience of hearing me in what I thought were my death throes. Frankly, I’m not a gentle puker. Hence, I try to summon every ounce of will power in my being to avoid the activity. Two hundred miles to the south, the people living on the Wasatch Fault probably thought that the big quake was going to hit, such was the force released by my ailment.

I somehow survived to tell the tale, as did the rest of my family. Not only did we survive, but we also learned a valuable lesson, which we wish to share with consumers everywhere. Up to that point, I could enjoy a chunk of pork or a piece of chicken every once in a while. But now, my message to the masses is clear: Eat beef.  end mark

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