Brands and branding, part 2

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Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part story. The first part was published on the June 6 Agriculture and Livestock page of the Saturday Morning Press.

Brand laws differ from state to state.

For example, Floyd Martin, retired Moffat County Brand Inspector, said that Wyoming brand laws are similar to those in Colorado.

However, in Wyoming, "They tell you where to put the brand on your animals," he said.

"Wyoming also inspects sheep brands, which Colorado does not," Martin said.

Martin said some parts of the United States do not have brands at all. He cited a sign found on I-80, located east of Grand Island, Neb., which reads, "You're entering a no-brand state."

Other states, such as the eastern half of South Dakota and Oklahoma, don't have brand laws.

Brand inspectors are people who inspect livestock brands.

In Colorado, they work for the Colorado Brand Board.

Brad Ocker is the brand inspector for Moffat County. He came to the area 4 1/2 years ago from Brush, when Floyd Martin retired.

Ocker said inspectors get called in whenever there's a change in animal ownership, regardless of circumstance - whether that means the animals are going to cross the state line or when they're moved more than 75 miles within the state.

Ocker said animals don't have to be inspected if they're being moved directly to a sale barn within the state as long as they don't cross the state line, but the animals are inspected at the sale barn.

An example is moving cattle from Craig to the Centennial Livestock Sale Barn in Fort Collins when the truck driver travels only in Colorado.

There are some exceptions. Martin explained that a rodeo cowboy can apply for a lifetime permit to haul a horse from rodeo to rodeo, but if the cowboy sells his horse, he must get a brand inspection done.

After the inspection, the new owner can apply for a permit, or traveling card.

Ocker further explained that anyone can obtain a horse permit, good for a lifetime of the horse, to travel anywhere in the United States and not have to call the brand inspector again unless the horse is sold.

Likewise, FFA and 4-H members can obtain inspection permits to haul their show cattle to events, good for one year, from the date the inspector writes the permit.

To apply for horse or show cattle permits, applicants need to call Brad Ocker.

And finally, Ocker reminds everyone, "It doesn't matter if livestock is branded or not - it has to be brand-inspected with change of ownership."

What happens if a rancher puts a brand on "wrong," like accidentally putting part of it backwards?

Ocker chuckled as he said, "Brand Inspector Brad Ocker will tell you to pay attention the next time you pay your brand taxes. That way, you'll know how to put your brand on.

"Like any job, brand inspection requires common sense and a whole lot of patience."

As for how a person can become a brand inspector, Martin, who was a brand inspector for 35 1/2 years, said there's no real training, but there is bookwork.

"You either know it or not," he said.

However, to be a brand inspector, a person has to pass a written and a practical test.

Ocker said the practical test is a difficult test.

"You have 15 head of cattle in a pen that are numbered and branded with different brands, some on the left side and some on the right side," he said. "You have a piece of paper with brands listed on it. You have to go in and write the number of the animal next to the brand it belongs to. You have 10 minutes to finish.

"The test is given in November when the cattle are hairy. They want to make sure you can read the brands. : Very few persons finish the test, and even less pass it."

After that, the state inspectors are sent to different locations in the state. The State Brand Board tells the inspectors where they will be working.

According to Martin, the brand inspectors typically hire on first in LaJunta, Brush, Greeley, Fort Collins or Denver, usually where there's a sale barn.

"And a supervisor," Ocker added.

Martin said that the Moffat County Brand Inspector's area is "north of Nine-Mile to the Wyoming line, this side of Elk Springs, and this side of Mount Harris."

However, Martin added that "it's not set in cement."

If necessary, inspectors can work out of their areas. Sometimes inspectors help one another out, especially in the fall when ranchers are busy shipping cattle to market.

Ocker explained, " We don't want to hold anyone up (loading trucks), but we need to look at their stock. Sometimes I have to drive from Elk Springs to 20 miles east of Slater, a two or three hour drive in the snow.

"So, a rancher has to be patient." He added, "Whoever calls in first, in the fall, to get cattle inspected, gets looked at first."

"The work is sun up to sun down," remembered Martin.

But before inspecting can be done, calves have to be branded. Spring Branding Day is a big day for ranchers. It comes when calves are about two months old, usually in May. Sometimes the branding has to be put off because of bad weather.

Branding wet hair doesn't work.

The number of people helping with branding depends on the size of the herd. Neighbors help neighbors. Usually, the older ranchers catch calves and brand, while the younger ones hold the calves.

Most ranchers catch the calves by horseback and heel them. Then the calves are held down while they're branded, dehorned (if necessary), castrated, ear marked (if one is used), and given their baby shots.

Branding irons are heated in a fire fueled by wood or propane. If wood is used, one person may be in charge of keeping the fire hot.

According to Ocker, most ranchers use propane. Sometimes electric irons are used.

"At the request of brand inspectors, if you're using electric irons, make sure they're hot before you use them," Ocker said.

This is necessary to make a brand that can be read.

Some ranchers use a calf table for branding. A calf is run up into a chute, its head caught, and then the chute laid on its side, to make a table. The calf tables are often used when there aren't many calves and not enough people to help.

The art of branding and castrating is passed down, from generation to generation.

Branding is hard work, but after it's over there's always a "big feed," and neighbors get to visit. In years past, some brandings have been followed by everyone participating in ball games, though one wonders how anyone could have had enough energy left to play.

Ocker invites people with questions about brands to "please pick up the phone and call, instead of doing something that gets you in a bind."

Ocker's phone number is 824-6676. To find out whether your brand assessment has been paid or for other information, you can call the Colorado Brand Board at 303-294-0895 or visit the Web site at www.colorado.gov/ag/brands.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2009. All rights reserved.

Diane Prather can be reached by calling 824-8809.

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