Hot Iron Tradition
The Diamond P Ranch
by Kaylyn Messer | July 5, 2005
In the last few miles I notice the familiarity of home; the smell of cool country air, the old dusty dirt road, a barbed wire fence taut on aged logs, and the sturdy archway above our drive that reads Diamond P Ranch. This is always the atmosphere that shaped my coming home from college. Coming back to the land where hard work is rewarded with a big meal and hardy stories of the good old days. The days when my father and his brothers wrangled beef cattle on horseback across my grandfather’s ranch, and where a brand represented the years of hard work and pain that went into raising cattle.
A new brand is being used today, not that of my grandfather, but that of my family. For four years now my family has carried on the tradition of the west with a lariat and a hot iron on our farm south of Cromwell. Our brand is the shape of a diamond followed by a capital ‘P’ (representing my father’s name) and is placed on the left hip. Brands can be many shapes, they can be placed on different parts of the calf’s body and today there are several branding techniques including hot iron, freeze branding, and electric.
Registered brands are still required in North Dakota where my father grew up. Although branding is not required by the state of Minnesota my family continues the age old practice in order to keep the way of life from dying out.
Branding was originally done in order to keep others from stealing cattle on open ranges. A ‘running iron,’ which was made up of a straight bar or half circle, was used to change the brand on stolen cows so the owner could not reclaim his livestock.
My mother, Lyndia, my father, Pat, my older brother, Corey, my younger brother Tyrel and I all pitch in. Whether it is packing up the cooler, filling the shots, roping the calves, wrestling the calves to the ground, pinning the legs, placing the iron or cooking dinner we all have our part. We also have some diehard recruits who help us out every year. Rusty French and Wade Schultz have been through it all, bulldogging, dragging calves, administering shots, and even a little bareback calf rodeo. My cousin Bryan Wilde and his mother Claudia (my Mom’s sister) have also assisted us every year and even travel from south of the cities for the experience. My cousin Courtney Messer has witnessed our tradition for one year and also helped for another. In the early years we also had Bill Asp and Andy French helping out.
The day we brand is what I live for every year. It is almost like stepping into the old west; beat up old cowboy boots complete with spurs and jingle jangles, belt buckles, chaps, worn cowhide gloves, flannel shirts and cowboy hats.
The point that makes branding unique in our family is that we still do everything by hand. A lariat, syringes, a crew full of grit, a cooler full of pop and gatorade and a branding iron is all that we need.
The lowing sound of the cattle calling for their calves, the crack of an ax splitting wood for the fire, and the jingle of spurs is the music to which the day of branding begins.
As gates are arranged, the tailgate of the pickup falls and I set up the shots while showing Courtney how to prep each syringe with the correct vaccinations. Behind us the flame from the fire pit roars and my Dad says to get ready because the gate’s coming open. The anticipation burns in the eyes of my little brother, Tyrel, as he grins from ear to ear. On the other hand, my older brother Corey takes a moment to reflect; but his thoughts are soon broken by the loud rush of the gate and pounding feet as Rusty and Bryan run full speed dragging the first calf out of the barn.
Tyrel slaps his hands together and in one unbroken motion grabs the calf, brings it to the ground and pins it with his legs. He beams with an “oh yeah” look but is shaken as Rusty points out that Ty flipped the calf on the wrong side. The guys then grab the calf and turn it over quickly before it has a chance to get loose. Courtney quickly fills the syringes as my aunt Claudia snaps off a few pictures. After the shots have been given by Wade and myself the smoke from the brand clears away and the calf is let up and runs to the field where the cows wait impatiently.
Hoots, hollers, shouts and cheers roar throughout the day as each calf comes bellerin’ out. “One leg” is the phrase that echoes from the barn and jump starts the adrenaline in the crew. The calves are normally heeled (roped by the back legs) but when only one leg is caught, the calves have enough control to buck and run. Each person tries to tackle the calf but at times it is the calf who has the last laugh with people falling left and right, just trying to stay on.
By the end of the day all of the calves were back in the comfort of the field showing off their new tattoos to their disapproving parents while the crew took a well deserved break. The losses of the day: one boot heel, bruises, scrapes, scars, sweat and a shredded pair of Wrangler jeans. After a group picture we headed up to the house with our boot heals dragging from the tailgate of an old beat up Chevy. Laughter and reminiscence of the day continued throughout dinner and we tipped our ice-tea to a job well done, no broken bones, and anticipation for the year to come.
This article first appeared in the July 5, 2005 issue of the Voyageur Press.