We wrap up this blog series about the Kokernot o6 Ranch by documenting the primary purpose of this Spring roundup- branding and vaccinating the year's new calves. Hot iron branding of livestock dates back to 2700 B.C. with the Egyptians where old hieroglyphics depict them branding their oxen and other livestock. Livestock branding was introduced in the Americas in the early 16th Century by explorers and colonists from the Old Country. The practice is not without controversy, but I don't plan on dwelling on that here. I will say though that the process does cause the calves some very brief pain and trauma, but so far no one's come up with a more secure and practical way to ID the original owners of the cattle. Veterinarian studies have measured Cortisone levels in calves enduring the hot (and cold) branding irons, and the levels show a pain response that lasts for about an hour after it's done. There are some ranchers who use ear tags, but this method is very insecure, and impractical as well.When you're out on the range trying to determine which cattle are yours from a long distance, try reading an ear tag with your binoculars! Also, believe it or not, cattle rustling in Texas and elsewhere in the West is still alive and kicking. Cattle rustling can and does threaten the livelihood of our modern-day ranchers! Thanks to a recently-passed Texas law on livestock rustling, the penalties have been drastically increased! On a ranch as big as the Kokernot o6 with its 150,000 plus acres of open range land, branding the cattle is an indispensable part of the operation. It's also legally necessary in many circumstances when a rancher needs to transfer or ship cattle to another owner.
Once the calf is brought to the team of branders, the lightening fast, highly choreographed branding process begins. The calf has to be put on its side on the ground and and then held down securely while the branding iron is held to the hide for about 5 seconds. At the same time, some required early vaccines are given. If the calf is a bull, it's at this point in his life that he makes his first (and last) charitable donation to the Rocky Mountain Oyster Fund! The whole process from the time the calf is laid on the ground until he or she is back with Momma is maybe 20-30 seconds. This minimizes the stress a young calf has to endure at a fragile time in its life.
TRAINING THE FUTURE COWBOYS!
I watched these two young boys do their part in several brandings during the week. They were seldom outmatched by their adversaries, but they did sometimes take a little longer wrestling them to the ground than their adult teammates!
THE FINAL TALLY
Above, veteran Ranch Foreman Rod DeVoll tallies up the total number of calves branded for the day as one of his experienced hands provides his input.
SETTLING THE HERD DOWN
Once all the calves have been branded and vaccinated, it's time to release them back to the range with their mothers. After moving them out of the branding pen, the cowboys hold the herd outside for enough time to settle them down. Both cows and their calves have been through a traumatic experience, and they need some time to calm down before they're released back to the pasture to find water and do some midday grazing.
LOOKING FOR WATER?
I was located down below the little rise this trough was on, and saw these riders approaching. I thought the trough was full of water, and quickly ran up the hill hoping to get a great shot of these cowboys along with their reflections in the trough. This is what I found instead! By the way, look closely at the trough. It's made from a huge tractor tire that's been cut in half!! How clever is that?
SOME PHOTOGRAPHER NOTES
I just wanted to mention a few behind-the-scenes tidbits for you photographers out there. Since I had three days of branding sessions to shoot, I was able to relax and use several different techniques to get my images. They all involved changing my point of view (POV).
LOW AND FAST: You'll notice in some shots that the POV is very low (from right on the ground) using a wide-angle lens (17-40mm zoom). I did this by mounting my camera on a monopod which I then turned upside down, resting the camera on my foot. I used a wired remote to fire the camera. After the image was uploaded to my editor, I simply flipped it back to upright. Since there was plenty of time to experiment, I was able to do a decent job of framing some nice shots. By using the wide angle along with a high res camera, I had plenty of wiggle room to get a good shot.
HIGH AND WIDE: On one day I got way up high using my telescoping camera stand along with my Canon 5D Mk-IV's built-in WIFI. Using the Canon iPhone App, I was able to see exactly what I was shooting and control all of my camera's features from my ground-level position! Moving the camera up, down and turning it on a horizontal axis is very easy to do by loosening the screws on the leg segments. The camera stand is capable of reaching a height of 24 feet, but I think I had the camera positioned about 15 feet from the ground for this session. The stand is pretty sturdy (and heavy), but as you get higher the camera's weight combined with any wind that's blowing can cause some unacceptable camera shake.
HIGH ISO AND SHUTTER SPEEDS:One compromise you'll have to make when you're shooting action like we had during the branding is trading some higher than ideal noise levels for higher shutter speeds. Fortunately, my camera is very forgiving of higher ISO's, but when I do this, I'm careful to get the exposure right. If you underexpose at high ISO's you'll make the resulting noise levels a lot worse during post-processing by having to raise the file to the correct exposure. It's better to slightly overexpose as long as you don't completely blow out your highlights. Most of my captures during the bright part of the day with my 17-40mm zoom lens were set at 40mm, F6.3, ISO 320 @ 1/2000th of a second. These settings gave me plenty of focus range and action-stopping speed (along with forgiveness to any camera movement on my part).
ADOBE LIGHTROOM SUGGESTIONS: For those of you doing RAW processing with Adobe Lightroom, I have a couple of other recommendations. If you're using the Creative Cloud Classic version, you may have noticed that they sneaked in a new slider on us recently! It's located just above the Clarity slider and it's called "Texture". This is the first new tool they've introduced in a while, and I think it's a real addition to your toning arsenal! I won't go into it, but you can go on Youtube and find out all about how it works. In a nutshell, you can increase the contrast in fine detail while keeping noise out of areas that you want to keep smooth.
Another Lightroom function that was added a few updates ago was the expanded color profile capability. I've been extremely happy with the one called "Adobe Landscape", and I highly recommend that you give it a try for your outdoor images. It really makes the reds and greens pop in a very natural way, and you're also able to mask it out of areas you don't want it on (like human skin).