In the early morning light fresh horses are caught. Worn leather creaks as the chosen steeds are saddled and loaded into stock trailers. Coffee is sipped on the move while a caravan of vehicles bounce over rough pasture trails with tools, trailers and equipment in tow. Looked forward to by many, this day requires immense planning and swift execution. It involves the help and hard work of many a neighbor and friend. This day often symbolizes the ranching lifestyle and an age-old practice some have forgotten. This day is branding day; and for this Jerauld County family, it is so much more than simply identifying their 2019 calf crop.
Wade and Christina Christensen of rural Wessington Springs couldn’t have hand picked a better day in regards to the weather. A cool breeze kept the cattle comfortable as they were gathered into the corral set up by hard working hands that morning. Experienced cattle men and women made short work of sorting around 175 cows from their calves while others mixed the calf vaccines, fired up the propane-run iron heater and set the Nordforks.
With Turtle Peak for a backdrop, the real process begins. Ropers entered the small circular enclosure, building their loops and looking for just the right heel shot.
As riders catch and drag calves to the forks, those on the ground prepare for action. They efficiently administer necessary calfhood vaccines, castrate bull calves and take notes on which heifer calves should be possible replacement females.
While the workload for the day may seem daunting, the route is well rehearsed for this crew. Christina is the fifth generation to host a family branding and the process goes as such- “77 Quarter Circle” brand, one passed down from Wade’s dad Lyle Christensen, is placed on the right hip of steers and heifers to be marketed as feeder calves later this fall. The top end of the heifer calves, ones retained for future cows, are marked with a “C Heart” on their right rib. This brand was created and submitted to the South Dakota Brand Board by Christina in 2009.
After a quick glimpse across the line up of busy workers it is apparent Wade and Christina enjoy keeping this cattleman’s custom a family affair, involving even the youngest of budding ranchers. Along with their young sons, Quinten, Landen and Hayes, their nieces and nephews work diligently at whatever task they are assigned.
“There is a job for everyone here, any age, any skill set- we love having the kids involved just like we were when we were their age, that’s the best part of this day,” explained Christina.
For years to come the Christensen family will gather their cattle with trusted friends and family. New faces will appear from time to time and kids will transition into adults, but one thing won’t change. You see, today wasn’t just about a branding. Today was about a cherished family tradition, cowboy camaraderie and a love of the ranching lifestyle.