Wyoming ranching families look to old traditions for modern brandings

Jul 19, 2013

The grazing land of Wyoming is currently filled with young calves out to pasture. Calving season lasts through the spring and early summer in Wyoming and once the calves are born ranchers have to brand them to identify which ranch they belong to. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov attended a branding and found that in the 21st Century, some ranchers are happily keeping up old, social customs during their brandings.

IRINA ZHOROV: Scott Sims’ ranch in the Rock Creek Valley in Southeast Wyoming branded a batch of their calves at the end of June.

SCOTT SIMS: The brand that we use is called a Lazy Triangle E. Actually that brand goes back to my great granddad.

ZHOROV: That day there were over 300 calves. There were 3 ropers, 4 sets of wrestlers, 2 branders, 2 castrators and they were giving the calves 3 different immunizations. That’s about 20 people all told. The group assembled from a handful of ranches in the valley, which all help each other out for their respective brandings.

SIMS: We’ve been trading labor doing this probably for the last 15 years…15-20 years.

ZHOROV: Sims says it wasn’t always so. His family used a branding table in the past…a metal contraption that holds the animal in place while it gets branded. Using the table requires less labor than the old-fashioned roping and wrestling technique and a lot of smaller ranches prefer it. But the Sims family switched when a family from Cheyenne came to the valley and convinced them to go back to wrestlers and ropers, traditions as old as the Lazy Triangle E brand itself. Sims says those customs are important for ranching.  

SIMS: We kind of like to keep up the tradition, it’s part of our culture and using horses and roping and, we like to keep that up.

ZHOROV: Sims says it’s also nice to get everyone together.

SIMS: Everyone’s worked hard through the spring, long days, long nights, cold weather, keeping calves alive. And I think this getting together and brand and work together is like a reward for all the hard work.  

ZHOROV: As the branding gets going, the teams of people work efficiently to provide each calf with all of their necessary shots, to administer the brand and castrate the bulls. Scott’s son Shannon instructs the crews.

SHANNON SIMS: That should be all of them. Start on the double tags now, give us a second to warm the irons up though.

ZHOROV: While waiting for someone to come over with the hot brand, a father and daughter wrestling team hold down a calf on the dusty ground. Roger Newkirk is smiling.

ROGER NEWKIRK: It’s been done this way for 100 years so we ought to have it figured out by now. That’s my daughter Cassidy. This is how it gets efficient: tradition.       

ZHOROV: The Newkirks have been in the valley since 1918 and have known the Simses for about as long. Cassidy has been working at brandings her entire life.

The calf gets its brand [singe] and they move on to the next one.

The work pauses to take a break and everyone stands around eating cinnamon rolls and discussing why they prefer this method of branding over the table.

[MEN’S VOICES] It’s a lot more work and it’s a lot dirtier. Jump in here guys. It’s not near as fun.

It’s not the cowboy way.

I’ve seen a lot more calves limp out of one of them calf tables.

On a serious note, tradition.    

ZHOROV: One of the men jokes that he wouldn’t even show up to help if they used a table.

[MEN’S VOICES]: Oh we’d show up, but we’d sure complain a lot.

I’d show up for lunch.

ZHOROV: Kagan Sims is Scott Sims’ grandson. He’s 10 years old and grew up going to brandings. This year he’s helping vaccinate. He stands around patiently listening to the talk of tables and finally asks:

KAGAN SIMS: What’s a table?

ZHOROV: If it sounds like the Simses are purposefully training the younger generations to stick with the older ways, it’s because they are. Sims says it’s more efficient, less stressful for both animals and humans, and it’s good for morale.

SCOTT SIMS: We have always tried to be community oriented and I think it's a good way to keep communities close to each other. I think as an industry we're stronger when our communities are close. We wouldn't go back to any other way now.

ZHOROV: Kagan Sims agrees.

KAGAN SIMS: I’d rather do it this way.

ZHOROV: When they branded all 300 calves, the entire crew ate lunch together at the Rock Creek Valley Firehouse.