Ranching Blog: Branding in the Time of COVID

Ranching Blog: Branding in the Time of COVID

No matter what is happening in the world, the work still needs to be done.

A sorrel horse  wearing a western saddle is standing tied to a trailer.

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By Jenn Zeller


Branding season has begun in earnest. And it’s one of the things that has to happen, whether we’re in a pandemic or not.

For the most part, the branding crew are skeleton crews – the folks who live in this gorgeous, tall-grass country. Or in other words, those of us who practice “social distancing” as the norm. As an aside, if I never hear that term again, I’ll be cool with that.

Frankly, I don’t mind a small crew. The first branding of the year, I mostly ran around with my trusty Canon camera taking photographs, occasionally chasing back a calf that was trying to escape its fate. I’m grateful for those times during a branding when I can just sit quietly with my camera capturing the crew doing good work. 

Both brandings I’ve attended, I’ve taken my 6-year-old mare, “Cosmo” (DX And The City), to ride. My plan for her is to be my replacement for my older rodeo horse, “Avie” (No Average Joe 022). I can think of nothing better for her than using her on the ranch. She learns to watch a cow, not be bothered by all the commotion of gathering or branding and, in turn, we gain trust in each other.

Last year, I heeled a few calves on her at our head/heel branding. She was used to gather cattle at one other branding, and I rode her a lot for our work in the fall. So the past two weeks marked her third and fourth brandings. She gets better with each trip.

It’s always nice when you can go into the pen on a young, inexperienced horse, and have them come out quietly with a slippery calf on the end of your rope. She looked like she’d been doing it her whole life. To me, that’s a test of how you know you’re getting somewhere. 

For those of us in this part of ranch country, our lives haven’t changed much in this insane year we’re having. We don’t make weekly trips to the store, and our entertainment on the weekend consists mostly of riding or family time. Until recently, we couldn’t go to ropings or barrel races, because there weren’t any to attend – though in South Dakota our governor didn’t shut down the state. That wasn’t without controversy, either. Now, though, there are a few barrel races starting to pop up.  

It’s pretty much life as usual here. 

I’m headed out this week to go to Perry Quarter Horses for their Aaron Ralston cow horse clinic and branding. Ironically, I’m leaving one ranch, headed to another. In preparation for my trip, I’ll miss two brandings, and probably two more by being gone, but the wanderlust I have in my soul, needs me to hit the road. Usually by this time of the year, I’ve already traveled to three or four states chasing my dream of making well-rounded barrel horses that can function in any setting. 

I’ll be taking four horses on this trip. I’m sure there will be plenty of photographs, since I’m not riding in the clinic. I’ll probably just float around their branding and help out where needed.  

Basically, I’m helping my sister-from-another-mister with the food and fun. Because branding season has to happen, whether we’re in a pandemic or not.

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.