In the heart of California, deep in the foothills of the Central Valley, the traditional cowboy way of life lives on during the seasonal branding of a rancher’s herd of calves. Friends and family gather with their stock trailers loaded full of working horses; cowboys and cowgirls of all ages jump out in the early morning light to help. With their ropes in hand, branding irons, vaccination guns, ear tags, and the occasional beer, the task at hand is hard work, but more like a celebration of camaraderie and the blessing of living the cowboy life.
There’s an organized chaos during the branding; the team drives the cattle in and sorts the cows from the calves. A couple teams of headers and heelers work the calves out of the holding pen while others run up and hold them down during the branding, castrating, vaccinating and tagging process. It all happens in a flash, and then the calves are moved out into the pasture where the cows are anxiously awaiting them. The kids get curious about the left over rocky mountain oysters and are dirty from head to toe from assisting during the branding while the adults take a swig of beer in between their tasks.
Once the branding is over the chaps and ropes are hung up and put away with care, good ‘ol ranch food is served, cowboys play horseshoe, the kids continue to run around playing pretend, and the women get to catch up.
The western way of life, and the relationship between good friends, are preserved in a tucked away location, where cell phone service doesn’t exist, hands are dirty, and kids gleefully try to burn the hair off the castrated bull calf genitals.
There are my photos celebrating this unique lifestyle: