IT’S THE PITTS
By Lee Pitts
In my neck of the woods, every Saturday and Sunday from January through March is reserved for someone’s branding. So when it came time to brand my calves, every available day was already spoken for, and no one dared jump on another rancher’s day for fear of being excommunicated.
This meant someone either had to die or quit ranching in order to claim their day. So for the first five years, my wife and I had to brand our own calves, which meant we worked them on a calf table. Please don’t tell anyone because this is a sin worse than jumping on someone’s branding day.
We finally rose to number one on the waiting list, and when a rancher sold out and moved to Nebraska, we grabbed his day, despite a hotly contested debate about whether the day actually belongs to a person or to the ranch. Lucky for us, the new owner of the ranch wanted to raise yaks, buffalo and ostriches, which I don’t think require any branding.
So we got our own branding day, although it was not a very desirable one – the last Sunday in March. This meant a rustler would have three extra months to steal our slick calves, and by the end of March, even our poorly calves would be pushing 400 pounds. No one wants to wrestle those monsters.
There has always been an informal competition amongst ranchers as to who could provide the best meal after all of the calves were branded. This could get very expensive by the time the rancher filled his truck at COSTCO with beer, beans, beef and bread.
There are two schools of thought, but the multi-generation ranchers believe one should spend the price of a calf on their branding dinner, while the more recent and richer ranchers say they should spend the price of two calves.
There were only two exceptions – my friend Pete cheapened back by serving chicken and myself who believes one should spend the price of one leppy lamb.
For our first branding, I took the whole crew down to the Dairy Freeze and told them they could have anything they wanted under two bucks. Drinks and dessert were not included, as I didn’t want to have to buy anyone’s root beer freeze, pistachio milkshake, vanilla cone dipped in chocolate or banana split.
There were several complaints after the meal, and a boycott was threatened if we didn’t up the quality of our barbecue.
So for our second year, we decided on something a little different – serve-yourself tacos and chips. On one table we had big containers of ground beef from a cancer-eyed cow, chopped lettuce, cheese, macaroni salad slightly past it’s “Use By” date and a couple bags of Doritos.
For portion control, my wife handed out two tortillas to each adult and one to every kid. For drinks we bought a new garden hose.
The following year, we waited and waited but no one showed up to our branding.
The problem was a gynecologist had bought a ranch in the area and brazenly jumped on our branding day. He hired a caterer to serve filet mignon steaks, five kinds of salad, corn on the cob and French bread slathered in butter.
To drink there was every kind of soda imaginable, along with expensive wine, local artisan draft beers and drinking water from Fiji.
There were real linen table cloths and napkins and real silverware, instead of the plastic kind that always broke. The silverware selection consisted of three forks, two spoons and a sharp knife so the ranchers didn’t have to cut their steak with the same knife they’d been castrating calves with.
Dessert consisted of all-you-could-eat homemade ice cream, served atop apple pie or delightful berry cobbler.
There was even a place to wash up, including hot water, Lava, two types of French smelly soap, and there were his and he portable bathrooms with high-dollar toilet paper.
Needless to say, my wife and I were back to branding our calves on a calf table. But, as a reward for my hard-working wife and to prove I wasn’t totally heartless, I took her to a free gourmet mid-day-meal over at the gynecologist’s place.