The 80th message from Canada

Published on 22 June 2015 at 19:23

Monday, June 22, 2015

Quickly read Michael's message, it is very exciting:

Clinton wakes us up just before 5:00 am. Today we are going to a branding, which means we are going to witness real cowboys taking care of calves, to brand them, (yes, that will be awful) and give them a radio tracker.


We have to get to the ranch early to get the horses and switch trucks. Clinton takes us and around 6:00 am we are the barn where the two horses are. We have to saddle them and lead them into the trailer. That doesn't work out right away, because one of the horses does not feel like going for a ride. Nevertheless Clinton with his experience knows how to settle the horse and get it into the trailer.

After an hour and a half driving we are back in Saskatchewan close to Maple Creek. It is beautiful here and there are all kinds of pick up trucks and trailers. And indeed there are men walking around that look like cowboys. These men work with the horses and cows on a daily basis to take care of them. This group has been working together for years, they take care of each other's herds and they have a strong bond. Clinton introduces us. I feel I am getting telling glances that seem to say: “I wonder what you guys are gonna think of this.” They keep their distance so to speak to find out what we are really made of.


Suddenly the men take off on their horses toward the herd of cows which is at some distance on the other side of a hill. What happens about twenty minutes later is an impressive sight to see. A large herd of cows surrounded by cowboys on horses comes running toward us followed by a huge cloud of dust. The sunlight shines on the herd which makes this scene particularly beautiful. As they come closer you can hear the cowboys yelling and whistling. They very skillfully drive the herd toward the fenced pen. It is really something to watch. Especially when you feel the ground shaking underneath you and can hear the cows lowing and smell the herd as it passes by in a cloud of dust.


Lowing loudly, the herd moves into the pen. The entire scene is like a spectacle right out of an old Western movie. It gives me a strange feeling. It is beautiful to see. The skillfulness of these cowboys and their horses driving every animal in the most humane way to where they want them to go. 

When all the cows and calves are inside the pen another spectacle starts in which the cowboys on horseback separate the calves from the cows and lead them into a separate part of the pen. To keep the calves at ease, they leave a couple of cows in the area. It takes about 30 minutes. Then all the calves go back in the large pen and they start to prepare for the branding. 

I'm not sure what is awaiting me but I suspect that this spectacle is not going to be very animal friendly. I do notice though that the men are very attached to their cows and calves. They tell me why the cows have to be branded and why specifically now they have to assess them medically. There are some calves who have a stomach virus that causes diarrhea which can be deadly if not treated. They receive a light anti-biotic although they try to avoid that if they can. The cows are kept as naturally as possible and roam on acres and acres of land.


When the branding starts, four cowboys on horseback catch one of the calves with their lassos which they tie around the hind legs of the calf. It is impressive to watch. The calves are rolled on their side and the four men get around as quickly as possible to give them an earmark, an injection and the branding. The calve screams and you can smell the burnt hair.

I am appalled to see that all the male calves are being castrated which is not a fun sight. I wonder if this is okay and why it is necessary. To my astonishment I notice that the calves seem to be doing fine after their treatment. Of course they will have pain but the procedure is very quick. One of the cowboys explains that it is no fun for the calves and that it takes a few days before they are completely recovered but in general this is the best and most humane way to do it. As I keep watching I understand what he means. It may sound strange, but the animals don't seem to be bothered as much as I would've thought.

Clinton, who helped drive the herd into the pen, is now helping with the branding. One man is at the head of the animal and one at its backside. When more than half of the calves have been treated, the men ask if Sann and I we would like to help.


Sann and I are game and we get some explanation. I am very excited to be participating in this. When we get the first calf, a smaller one, I am full of adrenaline. The calf reacts to the branding which is painful to watch. When the animal is finished we let it go and it seems to be just fine, it walks away and eats some grass. I wonder though, how painful it is for these animals because I can't judge their reaction to pain. A few moments after Sann has had enough, I help one of the other cowboys. It goes fairly well, but it feels strange at the same time, because this is not something I would normally do.

The interesting thing is that the atmosphere between the men and women is very good and amicable. There is a break with coffee and lots of food and drink. We wash our hands and get seated at the table. Our participation in the arena has clearly gained some respect. These are the real cowboys and not the dressed up “wanna be's” you might see at a rodeo.

In the afternoon at around 1:30 everything is over and done with. The calves and the cows go back into the meadow. One of the cowboys tells me that the calves instinctively go back to the last place where they were fed by their mother. The cows do the same and this is how they find each other again. As I watch the calves leave, I see no trace of stress in the animals. I am very impressed with everything I have seen here today.


Clinton takes us to the ranch of the owner of the herd where we find a complete meal ready for us. I feel like we are in the middle of the wild West having a good meal with the cowboys. These rough looking men are social, quiet and wise men who have a lot of knowledge about nature, their animals and their environment. You can really only be a cowboy if you are raised as one from childhood.

After we have eaten, Clinton has to leave and we have to say goodbye. They thank us but I think that should be the other way around and I thank them. I have gained a tremendous amount of respect for these men. Although branding is not a pretty sight, these men know how to keep the animals' suffering to a minimum.  They care about these animals, it is their life. They are no-nonsense direct and straight up.

Clinton takes us to the house where he grew up, the ranch where his brother now lives. It is in a beautiful location and we have a drink in the shade which is nice since it is very warm and windless day.


On our way back, we pass historic Fort Walsh, where the first Royal Canadian Mounted Police was housed. It shows a special piece of history in which the Indians played a major part. Unfortunately the Fort is closed today but it is in beautiful surroundings. Clinton takes the long way home to show us all these beautiful sites. Sann has fallen asleep in the backseat and I notice that I am really tired as well but this is so beautiful and interesting that it is impossible for me to sleep.

When we finally get back to the ranch and unsaddle the horses, wash them down and let them back in the meadow, we go back home. I have a shower and wash my clothes. We have something to eat and I try to catch up with my blog even though I am exhausted. Tonight we are going to a Robi Botos concert here at the jazz festival in Medicine Hat.

The weather outside is still beautiful when Clinton and Kaytlyn take us to the local concert hall to see Robi Botos, who even worked with Count Basie. The concert is very impressive with world-class jazz musicians. Wonderful! Before I know it the concert is finished. It has been a really fantastic day! On the Internet I book a rental car for tomorrow and will drive to Calgary. Now I am going to dive into bed for my last night in Medicine Hat.


Han Schomakers, editor

Translation by Sytske van der Veen

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