There was excitement in the air as we packed our camera gear and piled into the car. Today was the day we got to see real Alberta Cowboys doing their thing on horseback! Our friend Greg graciously invited us to a large cattle branding operation that was taking place at the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area. We didn’t get a lot of specific details about what was going to happen but we knew we wanted to see it first hand.
We arrived at a house on the Conservation Area lands just as lunch was being served so we were warmly welcomed to join the large group already spread out at tables under the shade of the trees. Chatting with a few folks around the table we learned that a group of cowboys will ride out after lunch and gather the second half of the cattle (around 500 head) that were grazing in the surrounding acreage, separate the calves from the adults and then proceed to brand and immunize the young cows. Sounded ambitious and exciting.
After lunch the cowboys prepared themselves and their horses. The head cowboy put his horses through a series of what can only be described as warm up maneuvers (using only his legs) impressing us with his adept skill with his horse. He gathered the group together issued his instructions and then they disappeared into the surrounding trees and fields in search of cattle. A young cowboy no older than 7 years of age joined the others alongside his mom in the round up.
After almost an hour we began to hear the sound of cattle mooing as they were herded by the various cowboys towards the fenceline at the road. Once all had been gathered the cattle were pushed across the road and into a waiting series of enclosures. Separating the young from their mothers appeared to take some skill, patience and at times some emphatic encouragement but in short order the calves were rustled up and put into the branding enclosure.
One by one, cowboys and a highly skilled cowgirl roped the rear legs of the calves and dragged them backwards until a cowboy on the ground secured a rubberized yolk around their necks to immobilize them while they were given their shots, marked and branded. The entire process was done efficiently and left the calves no worse for wear despite some of them wailing at times like it was the end of days. We watched this process for quite sometime before we had to ride on down the trail.
After seeing this … one of us pushed off his dream to become an alligator hunter and has instead dedicated his future career path to the cowboy way.