As spring finally comes to the mountains, another ranching tradition gets underway on Blue Valley Ranch. The annual branding is a much anticipated event that brings together the entire ranch staff as well as neighbors and friends from the local community. It makes for a lot of hard work, and neighboring ranches often stagger their own branding days so that everyone can make time to help each other out.
While branding’s primary purpose is to legally mark livestock with proof of ownership, the branding event is a critical part of ranching heritage in both the Western US and Colorado that originated in the mid-1800s. The use of brands was first brought to Texas and the rest of the US from Mexico, where the Spanish had established a brand registry as early as the 16th century. In fact, branding has been used to denote ownership of livestock since the Egyptians used hot irons to brand oxen over 4,000 years ago.
While there are many methods for identifying animals, such as freeze brands, tattoos and even microchips, only the hot iron is universally accepted as a legal method for branding livestock. Brands are legally registered in the state of Colorado along with a specified location for placement of the brand on the body (i.e., left hip or right shoulder). Registration must be kept active through a registration fee, and the state designates a brand inspector to assign, review and record brands. All livestock sold in the state must pass a brand inspection before a bill of sale is issued.
Branding is only part of the treatment each calf gets before being returned to its mother. The calves are also carefully checked for illness, lameness and overall health. Each calf is also vaccinated, which is a critical component of maintaining good herd health.
Reading, or “calling” a brand can be an art all of its own. Brands are traditionally read from left to right, from top to bottom, and from the outside in. Blue Valley Ranch’s brand, seen on our logo (below), would be read as a three-quarter box, slash, quarter circle. Most people, however, simply call it the beaver slide, as it looks like the beaver slide structures that were used to put up hay in Middle Park.