Tick. Tock. It’s all I can hear. Tick. Tock.
It’s Tuesday and the branding is on Saturday. Preferably, to hold a branding, you need corrals. Ah, yes, the all-important corrals. We do have them planned out and marked, no thanks to the power and water companies. But, that’s about all we have at this point.
And this is where the fun starts. There is a railroad that runs through town and a corner of our property. Paul asked them about any railroad ties they may have and/or if we could purchase some directly through them. They were happy to oblige and offered as many free ones as we could take. Since I’m the one who balances the checkbook – I like free stuff. As a bonus, we were both happy with the fact we’d have “green” corrals in reusing the old ties. Strong, sturdy corrals that wouldn’t budge for centuries. Plus, they’ll look really cool.
Did anyone else know that railroad ties weigh, like, 300 pounds each? Paul said they’d be heavy, but I think even he forgot just how big these suckers are. For weeks, he began amassing them. Getting one load – about 25 or so – would take the better part of half a day. This is on top of all the daily things Paul does around here: going through all the cows, checking if anything has calved (Yes, we still have cows left to calve. Rotten, lying bastards – February my ass! It’s the middle of freakin’ April!), cows at the leases, horses, feed, water, fences, etc. I’m sure there is much more that I still have no idea about. So, let’s just say, he’s spread a little thin. Perhaps my big city, Dallas-girl charm is wearing off and the differences are beginning to become a hindrance? I do have a really nice base tan going though.
Better start getting some of these posts in the ground. We borrowed a neighbor’s tractor and post-hole digger. HUGE help. Well, kinda. The post-hole digger is 9” wide. The railroad ties are 9” wide. So, although we got the holes done, Paul has to dig out every single one to have wiggle room for the post. We’re talking 3 feet in the ground and at least 3 inches on each side. There are at least a hundred holes. Unfortunately, this can only be done by hand.
Dun, dun, dun…
What’s that? Rain? Yes, all the holes are dug, only the corner posts are in and it starts to rain. And rain. And rain. Apparently, having 3-foot deep holes filled with water is not conducive to actually setting a post. Who knew? From the looks of the tears streaming down Paul’s face – he knew. But, he kept going.
Wednesday evening Paul’s dad arrived and got more than he bargained for on Thursday. A decision was quickly made to scrap the remaining railroad ties (for the sides) in lieu of 2x4s. So, we got the dimensions and spacing worked out and I picked up a hammer. My manicure is horrendous as you can imagine.
My aunt from Minnesota drove my 88 year-old Grandpa from Iowa down for the branding. We were thrilled that they could make it, although we would have loved the rest of the clan as well. They started their drive at 3:45 am and were here 12 hours later. Minutes after they arrived, Grandpa was itching to get down to the corrals, which I must say, by this time; Bill and I had made good progress on. Poor Paul, still putting in posts. We all walked down and they literally got to work that minute. They put us to shame! The corrals were half built by the time dinner rolled around and starting to really look like something that could contain wild animals.
Friday morning, the crew got to work in the pouring rain and the corrals were done. Well, there are still some inner-workings that need to be finished, but hey – we can have a branding!
The finished product – creepy weather.
Talk about cutting it close! Let’s all have some cocktails in the hot tub! And more cocktails. And more. ..
Some friends Paul cowboyed with came in from out of town. Both sets didn’t get to our house until after 11:00 pm. I was well on my way to being incoherent by then (and most likely the reason there was no ice for mojitos). I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in this, but it’s a little hazy. Sid and his wife, Sarah came up from just outside of Ft. Worth. He’s a California boy too, but thank goodness Sarah's another Texas belle. Dan drove from western Oklahoma and picked up a couple of horses we bought on the way. He cowboyed with Paul in Oregon at the ZX, which is over a million acres. Pretty impressive. He brought along a Texas boy that he works with, Justin. Nice crew. And fascinating – all of them.
There’s just something about seeing a bunch of cowboys (and cowgirl) saddle up their horses, make ‘em look pretty (there is a shocking amount of vanity here – from the tack to the clothes to the hat to the horse, it’s amazing) and head out to gather the cows. Out there in the open, working in unison. Paul is happiest on the back of a horse – especially if there’s a rope in his hand. Which there would be plenty of today.
Justin giving Tyrone a good brushing before the start.I was fascinated by his leggin’s – a blend of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico “Cowpuncher” style. Silver conchos go all the way down the back and sides and they must weight fifty pounds. His hat is a traditional Texas Panhandle style, straight up on the sides. Apparently, skin cancer isn’t a concern.
Dan – knotting up his horse’s tail.
Sid and Sarah
Heading out to gather the cows.
Paul and Justin push the herd from the two pastures behind the trees to this one. Dan and Sid then get them moving into the next pasture where the corrals are.
The one that got away. Justin going after a straggler.
With the calves sorted and the fire started, the inaugural TC Cattle Company branding begins. (I have no idea why the font size changed here...)
Dan, Justin and Sid are horseback. On the ground are Sarah doing the ear tags, Paul’s dad doing the vaccinations, Grandpa with the branding iron, Beth keeping the fire stoked and Paul cutting off the cojones and placing them in a container fashioned from a Coors box (sad, I know). I am safely behind the rails – exactly where I should be.
Sid winding his loop.
Paul, holding a calf, intent on the ground crew.
Yay!! Guess who’s here? The esteemed Mrs. Michaels and Puppy Monster! She drove up from Dallas to be a part of this crazy day and man, am I glad she did. Not only for the fact that we got to meet in person or that she brought chocolate and wine, but because I had one task – to keep track of the heifers and bulls. A simple hash mark. Did I mention that I was hung-over? Although, there's a chance I was actually still drunk. For my brain, this was like reading a Stephen Hawking book – it didn’t compute. Mrs. M immediately took control of the pen or was forced to, I can’t remember which.
I'm ashamed to say that Mrs. Michaels and I both eluded the camera all day. There's not one single picture with her in it and only one of me - well, my ass, but who needs to see that? She's everything you think she is: Beautiful, gracious, funny as hell and ridiculously smart. We're both so glad that she made the drive.
It’s time for Paul to rope and Dan to take the ground. Here’s where the different styles of cowboying come into play. California Vaqueros, buckaroos if you will, have a very slow, almost methodical approach to animals. Texans are more on the hurry-up side of things. Remember that Coors box for the well, um, calf thingies? That is now Mrs. Michaels’ head. Those things are being tossed around willy-nilly – and with impressive distance. The chair that she was just sitting in? Oh yeah, pegged that too. On the back of it no less. “Bend It Like Beckham” my ass. Bend It Like Conway!
My dad, Cheri and sister Holly made the trip up from Dallas as well. And thank goodness! All of the sudden there were hardly any calves left and a bunch of hungry people. I could not for the life of me start a fire for the bbqs. Totally lame. They literally took over and we had food. Voila!
The branding went off with only a couple of hitches - herniated calf and Justin's horse did a full-on buck and roll with him on his back. Our friends and family that came were appreciated beyond belief. And while we may have been covered in mud by the time the bbq started, I think we were all happy with a job well done.
Mrs. Michaels' hyesterical account can be found here.