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Editor’s Note: Our Rancher Cuisinternship Winner. Seth! Leary, recently completed his week long adventure with Country Natural Beef in Eastern Oregon. Seth has graciously agreed to let us peek behind the scenes of his week. This is his final post. Read Part One and Part Two. Enjoy!

Day Four: Raisin Brand

Each of the ranches I visited was different from the others but today I went to one that was even more different. The Wilson Cattle Company ranch has thousands of cattle grazing on pastures up and down the valley. Many of these animals winter in other places, from Montana to California to Hawaii. (Really!) Justin N. was my contact at the operation and he started my morning with a tour of some of the pastures. As manager, his job is to visit Wilson locations and make sure everything is operating smoothly. Today we delivered some salt (cattle like salt) and then saddled up to move some cows and calves to a corral for branding.

Justin’s daughter, Logan, is in third grade and very well versed in the ways of the ranch. I borrowed one of her horses and then Logan, her dad, and I were joined by cowboys Trevor and Kermit for the mini cattle drive. We had the animals moved inside of an hour, I think. There was a somewhat complicated maneuver at the corral in which we separated unbranded calves and some selected cows from the rest of the group.

The cows were sent through a chute where they received two vaccinations and a topical ointment that was applied by me. Justin J. (not Justin N.) just purchased these animals so he was getting them ready to join his ranch. (These cattle are not part of the Wilson ranch. Branding is a help-your-neighbor activity because it is labor intensive.) There was a lot of activity when the actual branding event began. Aside from the electric branding iron and vaccinations, the process has not changed much since the days of the old west. Branding is not a mere tradition; it is a necessary procedure to protect the rancher’s investment.

So, I got to watch real cowboys do real cowboy stuff. They have the rodeo buckles and everything. The calves were sent into the corral in groups of 25 or so. Two or three cowboys would ride and rope, catching the calves by the feet (“heeling”) rather than around the neck. That’s pretty amazing if you think about it. Since the other non-skilled jobs were delegated to a pair of nine-year-olds, I was given the job of applying medication to the steers’…down there region. I was the last step of a very brief process, after which the calf would scamper off to join the rest. We branded 70 calves in all.

The weather has been perfect all week and the sun was casting a warm glow over the highway as I headed back to the Best Western. Will tomorrow be another beautiful day in the valley? We shall see.

Day Five: End of the Trail

My fifth and final day was spent with John and Nancy Boyer as well as their lovely daughter, Monica, who is on break from college and resuming her role as ranch daughter. The offspring of ranchers know the meaning of hard work, that’s for sure. Nancy was my wrangler for this cuisinternship and did a fabulous job of choosing ranches for me to visit. She could not have done better.

I arrived in time for a breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and Rocky Mountain oysters for those with the inclination. Nancy and Monica were quick to let me know that these were on John’s menu but not theirs. I was reluctant to try one but in the end, I did. I may not go back for seconds but for the record, they are not too bad.

The work morning started out a bit chilly but within a couple of hours, the air was warm and I had worked up a sweat. The Boyer ranch is similar to the Anderson ranch, which isn’t a surprise since they live not far from one another. John and Nancy have large, flat pastures with a barn, a corral, and various outbuildings near the house. John grew up here and much of what I see is on its second generation.

John put me on a four-wheeler again and we headed out with Nancy to a pasture to bring in some cow-calf pairs. Our goal was to squeeze them through a gate into the corral. Cattle can be led fairly easily through familiar gates or into greener pastures. This move was in contrast to that an thus quite a chore. At one point, the herd completely changed directions on us and we practically had to start over. After much racing around, we finally got the last ones inside.

With the animals secure in the corral, Nancy and Monica and I separated 15 pairs to move to another pasture. This pasture was a few miles from the ranch, so we loaded the cattle into a trailer and moved them in three trips. The last round included all of the calves, one of which managed to slip through fence into a small herd of yearlings. Madness ensued! Nancy and I must have looked like Keystone cops trying to get this calf back where he belonged. The yearlings were constantly working against us. After about 30 minutes of this ridiculous exercise, the li’l fella finally rejoined his mother and the rest of his group.

The Boyers took me back to the ranch where we said our goodbyes and I rode off into the sunset. I drove through half of the night, with my manure-laden boots and jeans, returning to my suburban home. This has been a most amazing and rewarding adventure. I am glad that each family put me to work and took the time to teach me as much as they could about their lifestyle. Hooray for ranchers! Now I’ve worked up an appetite. Where’s the beef?

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  1. The Wanderer says…

    Seth – My nephew is finishing at Cordon Ble and I have been sending him your reports! He has really enjoyed them, too. Glad you had a great time and learned to appreciate the other side of good food!

    Written on June 10th, 2010 / Flag this Comment
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