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A calf bawls during a branding on a 100 year-old ranch near Cremona, Alta., Friday, June 1, 2012. Over 300 calves were branded and will head out to summer pastures. Branding time is a western tradition and brings together friends, neighbors and families for a day of work with a large barbecue dinner afterwards. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
A calf bawls during a branding on a 100 year-old ranch near Cremona, Alta., Friday, June 1, 2012. Over 300 calves were branded and will head out to summer pastures. Branding time is a western tradition and brings together friends, neighbors and families for a day of work with a large barbecue dinner afterwards. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

RANCHING

In defence of branding cattle: Albertan ranchers on a burning tradition Add to ...

To enjoy a branding day – the work, the smells, the spectacle – it may not be necessary to have been raised to it, but it helps. I get an old excitement when I see ropers letting out their long loops, walking the horse slowly into the calf herd and coming out just as slowly with a calf dragging.

Teams of two (usually sturdy, younger folk) hold the calves for the brander, the dehorn er and, if necessary, the castrater. The smoke rises, the calf bellers. If the hair catches fire, someone brushes it out with a gloved hand. The calf wobbles away, shaking its head and sorrowful. The work goes on from early morning until evening. On big outfits with big crews, it is possible to do a thousand calves a day.

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