Spring Branding: a Family Tradition
|Tate Jensen is pictured branding a calf, one of America's oldest ranching traditions.|
The exciting life of the wild west grew up around the herds of cattle which filled the great plains and mountain valleys where bison once grazed in peace.
Herds of thousands were turned onto the prairies and meadows by the ranchers who owned them and put them under the care of the cowboys who guarded them. Cowboys were a fearless race, expert in the saddle and dead shots with the rifle. The cowboy life is a legend, as many a picture shows us.
Some say its a dying breed, yet throughout the west, evidence is still abundant of the cowboy way of life.
Even as the wild west settled and modern living approached, the ranchers and cowboys continued with their industry. Cowboys' lives have changed some, but they still must master the skills of roping and riding.
Modern times are continually changing the everyday cowboy. Once endless work on the range and mountains was typical. Now cowboys working with cattle mainly during certain times of the year.
It's a cycle and the Jensen family follow a tradition that both sets of grandparents practiced right here in the Castle Country. Butch, Jeanie, Tate and Jennie Jensen have all grown up in the saddle. Today, although their lives vary greatly from their parents and grandparents, they are cattlemen through and through.
The cycle begins every spring as the new calves start dropping into the winter pastures and by the time May and June rolls around it's an important time for any rancher to gather the herds to be branded.
Branding is an ancient custom, practiced before the first cow came to America. Tombs more than 4,000 years old show paintings with Egyptians branding their spotted cattle. Story has it that Cortez burned crosses on the hides of cattle he brought with him to Mexico. The Vaqueros passed the custom on to American cowboys who developed and refined their own techniques.
Although the methods of branding has changed over the years the reason for marking cattle remains the same. That is to prevent theft. It's still the only absolute full proof method for cowboys to mark their cattle.
Besides branding the calves, several other necessary steps are taken during the spring ritual. Vaccinating the calves has probably changed the most, explained Butch Jensen, who says that they use to inject the calves with a three-way vaccination but today that has changed to an eight-way shot plus a live virus shot to prevent pneumonia.
In addition to the shots, the cowboys also install ear tags which distinguish between heifers and steers.They also have the Jensen phone number printed on every tag.
The Jensen's brand is TN amd was selected by Butch's father T. N. Jensen.
The cattle are summered in the high country and winter on the desert.
At the branding spot just off of Emma Park Road is where the Jensens have one of their summer pastures. At that location, because of the paved access to the corrals the Jensens are able to truck the cattle to the corrals from the winter pastures. The crew uses a more mobile method to sort animals and a calf table to brand and vaccinate.
At the location up at the Tavaputs Ranch above East Carbon they still trail the cattle to the summer pasture and rope and brand the cattle, similar to the method that has been used for decades. They still rope and brand the stragglers.
The calf table is much more efficient because it is portable and because of this they can usually process about 200 calves a day.
Cows and calves are separated in the larger corral and the calves are herded into small holding pens leaving them wide-eyed, bawling as their moms stand just beyond waiting for them to be reunited.
But at the summer ranch near Emma Park Road the calves are simply pushed into the chute and one by one they enter and travel through the tight chute and find themselves on a calf table where they are treated and branded.
|It's Branding Day for TN Ranching Company at the Emma Park Road corrals. At this location the traditional branding and roping of the calves is replaced by the more convenient calf table where calves are paraded throught the chutes and branded and treated.|
The Jensens run a variety of cattle on their ranges including Angus, Limousine, Brahman and Gelbvieh. And as everything changes over the years so does the genetic makeup of the calf. Butch explained that the calves use to weigh about 300 pounds on average at weaning time but they are now often 550 to 600 pounds.
However the old ways of some things are still followed even down to the meal served which has always been an important part of any branding. Jeanie and Jennie, besides each handling a station during the branding, also serve a delicious meal of cowboy stew, hot rolls, donuts and cowboy coffee to the crew.
The drought conditions the past few years have changed the process somewhat because the grass on the desert is consumed earlier than normal. But this year, there appears to be plenty of grass on the summer pasture and drifts of snow are still melting in the high country at Tavaputs.
The cycle will begin again in the fall when all the cattle on both ranges will be gathered and taken to the farm on Coal Creek near Wellington where the calves will be weaned and the same series of shots given, along with a treatment for lice. All steer calves are sorted and put in the feed lot and prepared to be sold and the cowboys sort the heifer calves and pick the cream of the crop for replacement cows.
Besides the TN brand on their hip every cow is also branded with a number on the left front shoulder indicating the year they were born. Jensens only keep the mother cows for 10 years. In the fall the cows are all pregnacy checked and a series of shots are given to each one.
Replacement cows are very important to the future of the herd and the Jensens take this step very seriously. If a cow misses a calf anytime in her 10 years of producing she is sold and if her calf dies for any reason the cow is also marketed off.
"This keeps a super fertile herd of cattle," says Butch. Once they have selected the best heifers possible, a further test is conducted. They feed the heifers through the winter and then they bring in the veterinarian to conduct pelvic tests on every potential replacement cow. Butch explained that the pelvic has to measure a specific centimeter because it helps with the calving process.
Butch said that they purchase bulls that complement the heifers. They like to have the first time heifer to produce 70 pound calves and then once the cow matures it is their hope that the newborn calves weight increases up to 90 pounds.
Ranching for the Jensens is definitely a family affair. Butch and Jeanie grew up wearing cowboy boots as has their children. Both Jennie and Tate recently graduated from institutions of higher learning. Tate recently graduated from Utah State University in Logan with a degree in range management. Monte and Becky, despite the fact both have full-time careers, always find time to help with the spring and fall roundups.
Family in a ranch family doesn't always mean "blood" family either. This case is certainly true with the Jensens as many of their employees have become part of the family over the years.
Abe Davis, who runs their farming operation and takes care of all the feeding in the winter at the feedlot at Coal Creek, is one of those from the extended family. Abe has worked for TN Ranching Company for over 20 years.
Albert Sacco oversees the cattle in Emma Park along with many other ranch duties.
John Brinkley is Mr. Handyman for TN Ranching. As the ranch mechanic he can fix or build anything.
Quint Pickup is in the saddle for the spring and fall roundups.
Spring branding is a cowboy tradition and has played a large part in settling the west. It is one of the few absolutes that every rancher ties into their spring work. Even though the methods of gathering the stock, branding and vaccinating the calves have changed over the years, the same basic concept still applies.
For the Jensens, branding may be a routine chore but its one of those spring events that family, friends and neighbors look forward to each year.
If in the cattle business, then branding means taking care of business.