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If You Own A Calf Table, Break Out A Cutting Torch

I've been known to rant against four-wheelers, though I admit I own one. Now, I'm commencing to take a shot at calf tables, which I also admit to owning.

You might think I have a vendetta against iron, but I don't. So when I preach dismantling your calf table, it's not about the equipment but what it symbolizes.

I was delivering bulls earlier this year and stopped at one of those truly great ranches, arriving just as the day wrapped up. Several of us sat down by the saddle barn under a big shade tree and swapped stories for a while.

The rancher and a couple of neighbors had just returned from another neighbor's branding and were planning to brand the rancher's calves the next morning. In our musings, the ranch owner scornfully mentioned another rancher who'd purchased a calf table. After a little reflection, I think I agree with him.

Let me give you some background. The rancher said 26 family members -- kids, spouses and grandchildren -- were going to be at his branding. It was to be a grand family get-together, with even the kids who'd left the ranch returning to take part in the annual ritual.

Where I grew up in Wyoming, these were the brandings I knew. The whole community came to help, with great food and stories. Then everyone would go to the next guy's branding. It was a system that made it a whole lot easier on everyone.

There was an unofficial code governing the conduct and duties at these brandings. The owner did the branding, and maybe one or two of his closest friends if there were enough cattle. The older/mature friends who couldn't rope were given a crash course on vaccination techniques, a syringe and a bottle. And a good hand or two was put in charge of cutting bull calves, while the younger generation served as the flanking crew.

As a kid, it was a great honor to be asked to rope a few calves at the end of the day -- a signal to the world you were growing up. There were usually a few older ranchers around who essentially had retired from branding-crew duty and taken on supervisory roles. If you were under 20, you waited for directions; if under 30, it was ok to take initiative; if you were over 40, you commanded respect as a wise veteran; and anyone more than 60 years old was just plain revered.

Brandings were as much about community, friends and family as working calves. I learned a lot at those brandings and now realize it wasn't so much about riding or working cattle as helping neighbors and enjoying a good time together. In fact, a lot of the things you learn at these gatherings you don't even realize you were learning until years later.

Today, because of devices like calf tables and other equipment we use, we can get along without as much help, but it doesn't mean we should. I once read a line in an article about the modern world we live in. It said communities, and even families, have become collections of intimate strangers.

I guess that's why I detest the calf cradle. It's a whole lot more fun to be on horseback than tipping a cradle all day. I think the world would be a whole lot better if every calf table had a cutting torch taken to it.
-- Troy Marshall