Lyn Messersmith-Branding Day

Third-generation Nebraskan rancher, writer, and poet Lyn Messersmith shares her world through luminous prose and poetry.
Lyn is holding a drawing for a copy of one copy My Sister Mariah and one copy of Ground Tied, which are excerpted in this post. 
If you’d like to purchase a book, contact Lyn at– ezrein [at] bbcwb dot net .
 Mary has coaxed her hermit friend out of hibernation by challenging me to describe branding day.

I’m fascinated by fiction writers, but creative non-fiction and poetry are my long suits. My Sister Mariah is a book of daily readings that highlights how relationship with land enhances spirituality. Ground Tied and Downwind from the Smoke contain poetry about life in the not so Wild West.

As a third generation rancher, I’ve experienced many changes in our lifestyle, but dragging calves to the fire is one tradition that remains.

Branding is hard, dirty and dangerous work that requires specialized skills, but the day is about community cooperation, fellowship, and food, as well. Actually, it’s hard to capture in words. Perhaps pictures and excerpts from the books would better tell the tale.


Boss says, “Let’s roll.”
Excerpt from My Sister Mariah:
May 1.

About the time calving begins, Mr. and Mrs. Rancher go into a huddle go into a huddle regarding a date for branding. He lobbies for a weekend so the high school crew will be on hand to ease the work. She prefers mid-week for the same reason (reduction of spectators with large appetites.)

Irons in the Fire
Excerpt continued:

While the Missus plans the menu her mate worries over job assignments. Harry always wields the knife, but he’s getting on, and bending is hard on his back. If he’s assigned gate duty will he feel he’s being kicked upstairs? And these days women rope too, so it’s hard to be sure everyone gets a turn.

The brand goes on and yes of course it hurts.
Excerpt continued:
Ma wonders where she’ll sleep all the out of town relatives and whether she can borrow enough silverware. Both of them know the neighbors will be making mental notes about whether the work was well organized, the calves as robust as when Granddad was at the helm, and the menu; was it beef? After all, this is cow country!

Snipping the steers
Excerpt continued:

May 2.
Relatives and guest arrived yesterday in a constant stream and stayed up half the night visiting, unconcerned that Mr. And Mrs. Rancher needed to be up at 4 am .
Neighbors appear on the coattails of daylight. By eight o’clock the yard is full of rug rats, with a grandma or two in charge, and everyone else is at the pens.
Smoke, noise and organized chaos take over, and it’s all a blur from here on. If we’re lucky, it goes without a hitch. If not, cows will break out of the pen, it’ll rain, or someone will be hauled off to the medicine man with broken bones.

  Preventative medicine

Excerpt continued:
May 3.

The babies are trimmed up , doctored up, marked up, and ready to go to grass. From now on they’ll be identified with their owner. If one escapes into the wrong pasture, a call will come asking for the stray to be retrieved. But the neighbor will note the critter’s condition and make some sort of judgment, which is more likely to be accurate when made by one who knows us personally.

It’s the same with folks. When I’m acquainted with the Landlord, I tend to cut his strays some slack.

Let him up
Excerpt From Ground Tied
(while cleaning mountain oysters)

I recall like it was yesterday,

Dad, sittin’ on this same stool,

engaged in after brandin’ chores.

 Seems some things

don’t change all that much.

Hot irons, food neighbors,

washin’ down dust with cold beer.

Ropers at rest
Excerpt continued:
On the other hand…
Joe’s little gal missed a dally or so,
But in general
those two bit twine twirlers
of the opposite gender
can barely pack her piggin’ string.

An oldtimer supervises
Excerpt continued:

And Serena’s sure handy
with a knife. Somethin’ in her eyes
bendin’ over those bull calves
has me thinkin’ she knows
‘bout Sam
slippin’ out with that waitress.

Mountain oysters cooked the cowboy way. Can you say, “Yummy?” 

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16 thoughts on “Lyn Messersmith-Branding Day”

  1. Lyn I love these pictures. My husband said there’s some rule…I didn’t exactly understand it…about cattle west of…somewhere in Nebraska requiring a brand where as the cattle in the eastern part of the state can be ear tagged. Or even have no tag or brand.

    What’s that about? Have you heard of that? And tell us how many cattle you have, how many you need to brand every spring.

  2. Hi! I wanted to thank you for including such candid photos. Having never been on a ranch, I had no idea about some of those things, but you depicted different scenarios quite vividly, both in writing and photos. Have a great day!

  3. Fabulous blog, Lyn. Although I am a Southern California surbanite, I am a Nebraskan at heart. Your pix are great, and the excerpts moved me.

    Did I hear on a History Channel show or somesuch that microchips are used also, or in lieu of a traditional brand, so stolen cattle can be found easier? I recall on the show a giant semi sneaking up (???) at a ranch and loading up dozens of cows. The nerve!!!

    Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Lyn, and thank you, Mary, for coaxing her from hibernation 🙂

  4. Welcome an thanks for as such a great post,I hadnt thought about mountain oysters in a longggg time,ever have ate them, but ive hear of them,I do think I would have to be very hungry indeed to eat those!Im wondering how many ladies out there actuall know what they are?LOL

  5. Well hello my fellow Nebraskan! These pictures reminded me of my youth. We had beef cattle for awhile, then pigs, then milking cows, and now the family farm has grape vines. Interesting changes for my folks over the years.

  6. I have never heard of a mountain oyster, but I don’t care for oysters anyways. Great post! I would say a lot of work goes in to branding cattle. I don’t think they do that around here.

  7. Lyn,

    What an interesting read. The photos are wonderful. I would like to try branding myself.

    Have a wonderful day. I write poetry also I am trying to get a book published. Hard thing to do


  8. Hi Lyn,

    Welcome to P&P! We’re delighted to have you come visit. Loved the beautiful pictures! They made me feel like I was right there. You have such a neat ranch. I can only imagine how much work it is though to keep it running. I think it’d be a very rewarding life. And then you write poetry too! That’s amazing. I’m sure there’s no shortage of subjects to write about. I’d like to know what inspires you.

  9. Hi Lyn,
    Two days ago I was on a flight from Los Angeles to Washington DC, high above flyover country. There’s so much of this land that city folk like me don’t see and experience. Thank you for the beautiful blend of pictures and poetry. Loved it!

  10. Welcome the The Corral, Lyn (that’s my mom’s name, too :)). I love the pics, especially the cowboy holding the “preventative medicine” – what stories his face tells!

    What about branding day is the least changed from the 1800s, do you think? I know it’s noisy, smelly, hard work, but it’s one of those images that seems to most epitomize ranching for me.

    I’m looking forward to reading My Sister Mariah!

  11. hi and welcome Lyn; I am very familiar with branding but have yet to eat a Mountain Oyster and don’t believe I ever will. My dad had a brand as I grew up on a Dairy farm till age 10 and then on a mixed farm- grain and cattle. I feel so sorry for the little ones on the other end of the branding iron. This was very interesting and thanks.

  12. Hello and Welcome Lyn,

    Thank you for the beautiful pictures as well as the captivating words of branding. Have a great day.

  13. In my various and sundry reading over the years,
    I’ve read some about ranching. Being from Texas,
    you cannot escape hearing about the essentials of
    ranch work. So I know what mountain oysters are and,
    no thanks, I don’t believe I will partake of this
    “treat!” Thanks for sharing, Lyn!!!

    Pat Cochran

  14. Loved the pictures and the post. We live in the part of Nebraska that does not have to brand so have never watched that part but the rest I have witnessed. Yes, I had to cook the meals for those working the cattle. We have a friend who is a brand inspector in Western Nebraska and my husband has gone with him to his job but his wife and I get to stay home and craft!!

  15. Can still remember the look on our daughters’ faces when they found out what Rocky Mountain Oysters were. Ranching is hard work and most people don’t appreciate just how much.

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