Sometimes I tell people that my husband is “in commodities.”  Such wordplay only occurs when I am out of time, or out of patience, but it always works – their eyes glaze over and the conversation is finished before it ever gets started.

Admitting that Honeydew is a commercial beekeeper invariably draws lengthy questioning and usually, excitement.  And that is generally fantastic – I love that people are becoming more aware of the importance of the honeybee to worldwide agriculture, and therefore, to the food cooling in your fridge, stacked in your pantry, beckoning you to your plate.

If I have lots of time and am in a good mood, we’ll talk about beekeeping, and I’ll tell them about my favorite time of the year: brandin’ time.  I’ll describe our roundup, and how difficult it can be to get all the bees together in the same pole barn.  I’ll talk about our teeny tiny branding iron, and how hard it is to place the brand squarely on the bee’s hip.  And then I’ll collapse in laughter when it suddenly dawns on whomever I’m talking to that I am definitely making all this up.  The only kind of branding that beekeepers fool with is the branding of our bee hives.  We don’t brand no bees.

But we do help our kind neighbors, who allow us to place all those bees in their yummy alfalfa pastures, brand their cattle.  And that’s what we were up to last weekend: Maggie Rose’s very first brandin’.

This particular branding was held at the old 3C Bar Ranch, a gorgeously remote spot out on the prairie that makes our “neighborhood” at Duck Lake look like Brooklyn.  The 3C Bar is about a half hour from Glacier County Honey Company World Headquarters, down a bouncing dirt road that offers fabulous views of Glacier National Park.

This picture could be a Chevy ad, no?

On the way to the 3C Bar.

I wasn’t much help at this particular brandin’, being in charge of Maggie Rose and all, but Honeydew jumped in the pens and helped get the calves going in the right direction.

This little guy charmed me.  I grew up with cows, and generally find them to be The Most Boring Creatures On the Face of the Earth and, alternately, Money Pits or Gold Mines, depending on the current state of the cattle market.  But calves are not cows, and like all young things, they are charming and do not suffer from their parents’ massive shortcomings.

The calves are pushed through the pens to the branding table, which is something I’d never seen till last weekend.  We have no big need to brand cattle in the South, but when we inoculate and ear tag cattle, we use a squeeze chute.  Our lovely neighbors explained to me that the branding table is much easier to use, much lighter and more portable, and that as a result they’ve quit using the squeeze chute to work calves with.

Once on the table, the calf gets his brand …

And gets a little medicine, too.  That’s Ralph, above.  This is his operation.

While the brandin’ is ongoing, the barn is not a quiet place to be.  Calves bleat for their mamas, and mamas bellow for their babies.  They wait to be reunited just outside the barn.

The cacophony of the cattle is even better white noise than Maggie Rose’s Sleep Sheep, and she slept through the entire event.

In addition to brandin’ tables, I also learned about containing small ranch children at this brandin’.

Just put ’em in the cab of whatever 4WD vehicle happens to be parked in the barn, and they’re happy as clams.  And totally adorable.

Now, back to rounding up our bees for our own brandin’ …

2011.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.  Big thanks to the family of Ralph Johnson for letting us blog about the brandin’!