New game plan: Coordinated Chaos


I took this first picture when we branded at 5 Sections this past Saturday.

Five families are represented here on one tailgate.

And the picture is representative of what our brandings are looking like here on the PV this year.

It’s different but necessary.  It’s our new normal.

After 9+ years of staying home raising the Blake babies as Beau worked on the ranch, I up and declared one day last winter that this year would be different.  This year I would be on the branding crew — and by golly I would be bringing the kids with me!

And that’s how Game Plan:  Coordinated Chaos got started.

Branding season is underway here, and here’s what the average day looks like:  I don’t ride with the crew in the mornings — there’s no way to safely get myself and the kids horseback all at once.  But I DO leave at the same time as The Branding Truck (which carries the propane, the branding pot, the vaccine, the eartags, and so forth to the branding).

I take the kids with me when I go — still wearing their jammies if necessary.  If I’m fixing lunch for the crew that day, I take lunch with me too — packed in coolers and with a generator for plugging the electric roaster into.

As I always have, I pack snacks for the crew to eat midway through the morning.  This year, though, I’m delivering the snacks in person rather than sending them in The Branding Truck.

Sometimes I say I’m essential to branding this year because I’m driving The Donut Truck.

Other times I say I’m essential because I’m the Self-Appointed Chief Vaccinator.  The truth is, though, that I’m not the world’s greatest vaccinator — I’m a little too scatterbrained to be consistent about the job.  A better choice is our 14-year-old niece Tay, who has the focus it takes to run two vaccine guns and never miss a calf.

The good news is this:  because I’ve so far been able to talk my mom into riding along with me to the brandings, and because she is very patient about following little Muggins around as he ramrods the show from backstage, I have really and truly been able to work at the brandings this year.  The rest of the kids run wild, supposedly within sight of the branding pen, and they often eat most of the donuts and drink all the Gatorade that’s meant for the workers without getting caught at it before the coffee has boiled on the fire.  Meanwhile, I’ve been dragging calves (off of 9-year-old Asher’s horse; he’s been riding with his dad every morning) and learning a new skill:  castrating.  (Because our crew is down a couple regular guys, we’re short on surgeons — we call them “cutters” — and that’s why I’m stepping up to bat.)

My dad has been riding every morning, too, with the crew and through the pastures his heart knows better than his mind does.  In the branding pen he keeps busy handing irons to Vergal, who’s worked with us for 30 years and who is not about to give up on branding, even though he can’t take the heat from the fire like he once could and even though it’s pretty evident to the rest of us that he needs a knee replacement.

I’m not the only mom coming with her kids, either; at the branding on Saturday there were 16 kids under 12 years old.  And some of the older kids are just coming with their dads!

So this is what branding looks like at the PV in 2020:  we’ve got kids in the pen wondering how they can help.  We’ve got kids running around the outside of the pen, playing with toy ropes and riding double on ponies and sometimes disappearing into the sagebrush for too long a stretch of time.  We’ve got little ones underfoot or, in the next breath, escaping.  We’ve got Grandmas and Grandpas handing out gum and sharing their lunches and, all things considered, taking it pretty well.

I say “all things considered” because (even I have to admit) it’s pretty darn chaotic.  Such a departure from the way brandings used to be here, like when I was a kid.  When Dad was the boss, he expected a controlled and professional atmosphere in the branding pen.  He was truly a Cowboy’s Cowboy.

And I, his daughter who always tried so hard to attain a perfection that I never quite was able to reach… to this day I believe a controlled and professional atmosphere in the branding pen is the goal.

But there’s this thing about goals.  And there’s this thing about kids.  Kids love to puke up blue Gatorade on Mom’s goals.

So Mama has had to learn to adapt.  You might say I’ve let my ideals slide.

And that, as I have explained to myself and to my husband and to pretty much anyone else who will listen to my over-developed thoughts on branding season, is why our new game plan around here has to be Coordinated Chaos.  This is the New Normal, I like to say.

I have to brand for reasons involving my sanity.  But most importantly I have to take the kids to the brandings.  Because they are our Next Generation!  It’s not going to be real pretty, this having the kids at brandings messing everything up, for a few more years.  Actually, it’s going to be downright chaotic and, if we’re not careful, borderline dangerous.  But how else will they learn?  If we do this right, eventually they will be our crew.  And as most parents do wish for their children, I wish for them to be better than I have been able to be.

So that’s the game plan.

And here’s some of the crew:







© Tami Blake

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