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Branding in Briggsdale

By Kelli Osgood

russell speaker's idea of fun is made up of cold mornings, hot irons, rawhide ropes and big-brimmed hats. Bawling calves, dusty clothes, and the occasional practical joke on the newcomers translate into time well spent for a cowboy.

 

A day spent taking care of new calves in Briggsdale, Colo. -- in northern Weld County -- offers the average consumer a real insight into the time and energy ranchers spend keeping their beef cattle healthy.

 

The morning began with a rose pink sky and a thermometer that read 26 degrees. Speaker, the owner of the angus-cross cattle that were going to be processed that day, was already outfitted in his leather chaps and a big grin. Several horses were saddled, and two men, CJ Parker and Tyler Smith, were sipping coffee out of silver thermoses and speculating about what needed to be done.

 

“I’m not gonna lie, I really do like helping Russell,” Smith said. “Even though we only have a handful of babies to brand, it should be a fun time. ’Cause, not only do we have to rope them, but the horns come off, we’ve gotta give shots and of course, there’s always the bulls that become steers.”

 

The hefty black cows and their babies moved easily through the pasture, and were sorted by age in the holding pens behind the Speaker arena. A call of “In!” meant to let the calves running by into a smaller pen. When “By!” was hollered, the gate closed and the cows would trot by, giving the evil eye to the gatekeeper, into the large pasture.

 

By this time, it was mid-morning, and an easy 47 degrees. The sun set high in the sky, and it was time to rope calves. Watching cowboys rope makes the bystander want to jump in and join the fun. They swing their big, soft ropes with grace and land their loops on the calves’ necks before the animals know what’s happening. Once around the neck, another roper slips in and throws his loop at the two hind feet. The calf is stretched out, held down by a ground crew, and the necessary steps are taken to ensure that the calf will be healthy for the rest of the season.

 

The heifers, or young females, were sorted off and doctored first. For the heifers, the procedure was to give a shot of 7-way Clostridial vaccine underneath a front leg, clip off their stubby horns if they have them, and imprint them with a C)S (the Speaker brand.) The vaccination helps to ward off many bacterial diseases, including blackleg and tetanus. Although the air smelled like burning hair and the calves often bawled in protest, the whole thing was really efficient and when the ropes came off, the calves walked off, wobbly and dazed.

 

The bull calves had the same things done as the females, but in addition they had to be castrated by Speaker. He said that the bulls are turned into steers to allow for easier handling and that most males don’t deserve to be bulls anyway. With his small pocketknife, he did the surgery with ease, and it was a quick procedure. “Here ya go,” Speaker said as he tossed the testicles at Parker, who grimaced at the idea of eating them. “You know, there are starving kids in China who would love to eat those!”

 

Coats were shed quickly as the temperature rose and the calves each took their turn being roped and processed. One of the guys broke into the case of beer and the loops thrown began to get fancier and the smiles grew wider. The cows looked concerned and stood at the green paneled gate separating them from their babies. Although conversation was minimal, the dull roar of the branding fire and the deep murmurs of the cattle never allowed for silence.

 

When the sun cast a four o’clock shadow, the day’s work was completed and the worried mothers were reunited with their calves. “This is a really important day in their lives,” Smith said. “If we didn’t take the necessary steps to make sure our calves stayed healthy, then the hamburgers on our plates would be few and far between. Some people complain that we are inhumane. These calves are our money, our bread and butter. We do everything we can to make sure they’re treated right. Plus, we don’t do this for the money. We love it.”

 

The day finished with a rose pink sky over three tired, satisfied cowboys who were ready to eat dinner. Speaker thanked them for their work and said he was happy with how the day went.

 

“Many people probably think I am weird,” Speaker said. “But to me, this is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”

 

More Information

Name: Russell Speaker

Location: Briggsdale, Colo.

Years involved in cattle business: 45

Family: Wife Brenda, children Tim, 11; John, 17; Jerry, 18

Cattle Raised: Black angus cross and longhorns

Favorite Part of Being A Cowboy: “Definitely the horses.”

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Kelli Osgood

Kelli Osgood

kelli osgood is a senior journalism major at the University of Northern Colorado. Originally from Carmel Valley, California, she has been living in Northern Colorado from January of 2006. She graduated in 2003 from Monterey High School. Besides attending school, she lives on the Wildcat Ranch in Weldona, where she trains horses, takes care of cattle, and works part time in a restaurant. Her interests include horses, roping, cattle, fitness, surfing, photography, writing, and reading. The beat that she was assigned to in the JMC410 class was the cattle business of Colorado.

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