A girly-girl goes branding

May 11, 2012 Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

t was a day of laughing, learning... and wincing

I am a city girl, and a girly-girl to the bone.

All I know about cows comes from the early years of my Fisher Price See 'N Say toy that audibly would inform me that a cow does in fact say "mooooooo," to Chick-fil-A commercials of cows prodding me to "eat more chikin."

In Wyoming, cows equal industry, agriculture, beautiful bovines, dinner tables with bountiful portions of meat that bring families together, and in my case -- a day of branding.

To say I knew what a branding was or even thought a branding was might be would be lying. When I Googled the term it informed me that the process involved burning, with a steaming, rod initials or symbols on the cow to show ownership.

The mere description made me light-headed, and the invitation I had been given to witness this particular process seemed less than appealing.

I had questions.

Did the process hurt the cow? Was this a big macho fest unfit for a girly-girl? Did this involve something I really did not want to expose myself to?

Although the concept of watching animals in any sort of pain was not something I envisioned enjoying, I remembered that when I moved to Wyoming from Alabama, I made the conscious decision that I would not be closed-minded, that I would try the things presented to me and consider myself privileged for being allowed to experience them.

That is what adventures are made of -- the unknown, the unexplored.

The car was loaded, the day planned out, and the sun gleamed down. Open car windows blew my hair as I drove to the countryside filled with green pastures and rolling hills of picturesque scenery.

I pulled up to a farm filled with beauty and many different contraptions intended to ensure the day's activities would go smoothly.

The cows mooed and stared at me as I stared back, awkwardly. They were a novelty, unknown creatures, and as I glanced back to a pen of calves staring at me, I looked back and realized we were in the same boat awaiting something new and unfamiliar.

The actual branding process wasn't too terrible, although I could have sworn some cows were saying, "ow ow ow" as the branding iron placed its mark on their sides. I'm still not convinced the cows are not in pain as this process occurs. Pretty sure if I was branded I would not enjoy it, but at the end of the day the cows were reunited with their mothers, walking in a single file line and grazing in a field as if nothing major had happened.

I learned that a bull can weigh up to a ton (2,000 pounds), that a mother cow knows which calf is hers, that when a calf is branded it has to be written down for the owner's records, and that a branding can be a family affair, an event that brings people together, a community gathering, a goal and a purpose, an exact science, a training of future generations, and a day filled with laughter and merriment.

A cattle branding is about family, helping one another out with a sole purpose to complete a task at hand, the circle of life in its fullest, something to be proud of and, for me, knowledge of something I hadn't experienced previously.

Was it girly-girl? No. Did it hurt the cows? Maybe. Was it pleasant? Yes. Did I learn something? Most definitely.

I learned that broadening my horizons sometimes involves getting caught in deep snow as I traipse to meet a man who observes mule deer in the outer crevice of Lander, climbing into machinery named "excavator" and "skid-loader" in my high-heeled shoes that challenge every element of grace and poise I have ever attempted to master.

I've learned that Wyoming is a challenge and adventure with people who open up their homes to me and allow me to learn about things such as heifer cows, where the food I eat comes from, the amount of hard work devoted by ranchers to keep my kitchen stocked with products that will keep me healthy and strong, that cattle serve as a valuable role in the ecosystem by converting plants humans cannot consume into a nutrient-dense food, that one American rancher can feed about 144 people worldwide

-- and that Wyoming is home to about 5,600 ranchers and 1.4 million cattle.

I also learned it is important for everyone to know where their food comes from, to learn about the resources of your hometown, and to embrace a new challenge that sends you to places you would have never thought you would go.

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