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Soapweed Ranch Ramblings

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Well-known member
Feb 11, 2005
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northern Nebraska Sandhills
The last few weeks we have been experiencing beautiful springtime weather, but it is getting quite dry and dusty. Calving is in full swing, and the nights have been warm enough that we have not had to put hardly any into the barns. We are over a third done. It has been our experience that the biggest runs come between a third and half done. After the half-way point is reached, things always seem to slow down a bit. Along the same line, have any of you noticed that when you count a bunch of cattle through a gate, they always seem to flow through the fastest when they are between a third and halfway counted out?

This morning we fed hay and cake, and then had an early dinner. The rest of the day until dark-thirty was spent in the saddle. On the end of the ranch that Saddletramp lives on, we had not sorted heavies since a week ago last Wednesday. That is not often enough, but as the weather has been wonderful, we haven't worried about it. There were 204 head in one bunch, and 150 in another. Between the two bunches, there have been 37 calves born since we last sorted. Observing the cows while rounding up, I decided to sort the opposite from how I usually do, and cut out the cows that didn't need to go to the heavy lot. We cut out 61 in the biggest bunch, and 39 out of the others, leaving an even hundred. We left these and the 37 pairs on that end of the ranch, and that left 217 heavies to trail the three miles home.

Mrs. Soapweed had been home all day calving out cows, so I asked Saddletramp if he wanted to load his horse and go help Mrs. Soapweed tag calves, or trail the heavies home. He decided to help tag, so that left my sophomore son, "Saddlesore", and me to drive the cows home. Had to "rub it in" to poor old Saddlesore a bit, and tease him that the reason he feels that way if because he has been spending too much time in his caddy, and not enough time in the "saddy". He takes the jokes well, and agreed.

Yesterday, my little Saddlesore buddy went with me early to Valentine to get the pickup that was in for the spray-in bedliner (it turned out real nice). He then drove back to Cody to school, and I accomplished some errands in the big city before heading back home. Our TV remote has quit working, so I tried to find another. I went to Radio Shack, and as I went in the door noticed a sign that said, "New 50 Cent CDs". Being always a bargain hunter, that piqued my interest. Unfortunately they didn't have the right kind of remote, with back-up capabilities, so I said, "That's okay. Where are your 50 cent CDs?" Dave laughed, and said, "I don't think you want any. 50 Cent is the name of a hip-hop band." It was kinda funny that I am so naive, but I kidded him that maybe he was capitalizing on a bit of "false advertising." One thing about it, it's a way of drawing folks into the store. :)

We are all kind of tuckered out tonight. It is sure nice to just turn things over to the night man. This is the seventh year that Saddletramp has helped us calve, and Mrs. Soapweed and I have been doing it together for the past 26 calving seasons. Last year, a man that worked for us back in the late 'eighties and early 'nineties called to see if we wanted him to night calve for us. I said, "Come on up and we'll put you to work." We are lucky that he wanted to do it again this year. All the rest of the years, we have each taken our turn at night duty. We are getting spoiled, but it feels so good.
Have been calving for about 10 days and am about 25% done. Good calving weather, but sure is dry and dusty.
Soapweed did your son get the branding fork to work like you wanted it to? Sounded like a good idea, would like to try one if he is making them
Sagebrush, thanks for the interest in the branding forks. We just have two prototypes made so far, and they are successful, but I still think we could improve them. My son has been extremely busy in his welding shop, doing mostly repair work. About three weeks ago, he broke his foot real bad when a three hundred pound utility box end-gate fell on it, so he has been recuperating since.

He has made five or six real fancy portable branding stoves, mounted on trailers, and each one fancier with more bells and whistles than the last. The most recent one has a 250 gallon propane tank and two stoves on six-foot arms that extend out on each side. The stoves can be turned any direction so the wind doesn't bother. These are geared to using with large branding crews, and doing over a thousand calves in a morning.

My branding forks, on the other hand, are meant to use with a small crew. I think one roper, two branding forks, and a three-person ground crew could easily do a couple hundred calves in a morning. Two ropers, four forks, and five people on the ground could conceivably double that output. Time will tell. One thing about them, you don't need wrestlers. A cautionary note is, don't use your best ropes, because it is hard on ropes. When they go bad, you just cut off a foot and a half, tie a new hondo and go on.

Another problem is finding the right wheels at the right price. I am not sure how much the average fork buyer would be willing to pay, but the "ingredients" are somewhat expensive. The Nord forks are around $80 or $90 dollars, and our forks will probably be at least $250. With our forks, you can go twice as fast per fork because the roper is not waiting until the calf is done to go get another calf. With our fork, the rope is clamped into place and the calf secured. The roper gets another rope and goes after a second calf while the ground crew works on the first calf.

Sorry we do not have these up and going by now. My son possibly doesn't share my enthusiasm, because too many nay sayers have shown up at his shop. Saddletramp was as skeptical as they come, but after using them he is, if anything, more excited about them than I am. I truly think they will take cattle country by storm if perfected.
Soap- About ruining ropes- You have any ranch supply stores down there that sell used ropes? The only new rope I've bought in the last 10 years was a 60' .... Instead I buy those $10 "worn out" teamroper ropes from the supply stores--I have a couple behind the seats of every outfit-- work great for snubbing cattle when clipping to check brands or just general use- usually use 1 or 2 for some type of purpose I shouldn't and break it, or knot it up so bad its useless-- but its no big deal when its only $10....Also don't feel as bad when I loan one to someone and it walks off.....
Soapweed, those branding forks seem very promising - especially the minimal wrestling and the efficiency of leaving a calf in the fork rather than waiting on the crew.

I've noticed the Soapweed way splits up the cowherd for several manageable processings. I really like the soapweed plan better than the "hellbent for election" "we ain't buildin a church" processing I've been in on in Sherridan County (my cows, contract operator).

As for old ropes, alot of times you can buy a pile of 20 or 30 for $50 at horse sales. Those suburban team ropers get all the missse out of them for you.
Soapweed I just haven't quite figured out your branding forks. But on my calf table i put a rope on the top leg and it runs around a pulley and is held in a device ofF a sail boat. i just put a new one on after 10 years or so but you can pull the rope tight , it holds it and you just give it a flip to release. I am thinking it's called a "Cleat" but I could send you a picture if it would help. :cowboy:
BMR, when a neighbor was short of help, he would use a tree crotch for branding. The crotch was about four feet off the ground. The secret was for the roper to catch both hind feet, and flip the rope over the top of this crotch as he dragged the calf to the fire. With the horse holding the rope tight, the hind legs of the calf were at least three feet off the ground. The calf was virtually helpless, so no wrestlers were needed. With the calf in this position, it was easy to brand, vaccinate and castrate. The downside was that the calf was heavy enough in this position that sometimes it was hard to keep the horse holding everything tight, calf after calf. It was also hard on ropes.

Our invention uses a free spinning wheel (just a wheel rim with no tire involved). This is easier on the rope and easier on the horse doing the pulling. The rope is placed in the "V" of the wheel rim, and this is basically the "fork". The top of the wheel is about four feet off the ground, similar to the tree crotch. When the calf is in the right position, the vice-grip rubber arrangement secures the calf in place. Your cleat idea might work even better for this part of the deal. The wheel and vice grip deal is mounted on top of about a four inch diameter fence post, and the post is dug into the ground about two and a half feet.

Anyway, the horse only has to pull the calf into position, and doesn't need to keep holding the calf in place after the clamp is in place. The other benefit is that the rider is not stranded until the calf has been processed, but is instead free to use another rope and go catch another calf while the first is being processed.

Your arrangement sounds like a very workable deal, too. I would be interested in seeing a picture of it.

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