You know the experiences in your life that you look back on and you just know they played a major role in shaping who you are? That is how I feel about branding cattle, and with spring being here and brandings right around the corner, I want to share why this experience has shaped my life, and put me on the path to working for Silver Lining Herbs.
My branding experiences began at age four in the back seat of my dad’s old pickup. Mom and dad set me up with all the goods to keep me entertained for a while: my favorite stuffed animal, blanket, and enough snacks to compete with the local gas station. We would drive out to the ranch starting around five in the morning, and then I’d get dropped off at the ranch house where I was supposed to sleep for a few more hours while they brought the cattle in. This time was instead spent riding the stick horse I found in the corner, and looking out the window for the sun, wishing it would come up a little faster. A few hours would go by and then my mom would finally come and pick me up on her horse and take me out to the branding area in the middle of those dry, sagebrush-covered fields. Then, I would happily sit on the fence and take in everything around me: the sight of a crew of dusty cowboys, the smell of coffee, burnt hair, smoke, the sound of calves bawling and my grandpa shouting. In my little cowgirl boots, hat, and wranglers, I felt like I owned the whole operation.
Ten years later I wouldn’t be caught dead on that fence. There was no way that was allowed with so much work for our crew to do; this crew consisting of the other six or seven cowboys and myself. I was usually the only female around for miles, at least until grandma showed up at noon with lunch, and I was proud of this fact. I had earned my keep over the years, but believe me, I’d had to prove myself. My opportunity to become part of the crew came the first time I tackled a calf. I was running the head catch. As part of this job, I was to place the catch over the calf’s head as the roper pulled them through our lane. Between the roper’s rope and the head catch, it would stretch the calf out so it could be branded, doctored, and if it was a bull, castrated. It was crucial that I didn’t miss, otherwise it caused all sorts of commotion.
Unfortunately, I had been missing about every other calf that day, and I could tell that a couple of the cowboys were ready to hand me some pom-poms and tell me to go cheer on the sideline. I remember looking at the next calf barreling my way and thinking, “Alright Jess, cowgirl up.” I didn’t even try to put the head catch on, I just jumped on this 150 pound calf, wrapped my arms around its head, and held on tight. From then on, I had earned the respect and acceptance of the other cowboys and was considered a part of our branding crew. This was one of my prouder childhood moments.
Many wonder why I share growing up branding calves as a life-changing experience. Until I had experienced the early mornings of moving cattle towards the corrals during the sunrise, I did not know what a privilege it is to wake up early. Without the chance to work side by side other crewmembers, communicating in a language that is only known by a hard worker, I had not learned to appreciate the food I had on my table. After completing the days work and walking into the local bar to get a burger and seeing the looks of approval on others’ faces because you were covered in dirt, blood, hair, and cow manure, I realized the respect good work ethic earns. Not until I received a slap on the back, tousle of my hair, or hug around my shoulders did I understand the camaraderie between cowboys and cowgirls around the world. Just like the stains on my clothes, these good qualities were forever stained on my heart. In these moments I was given an opportunity to learn about myself and the kind of life I wanted to live.
Fast forward to today and to my job at Silver Lining Herbs. I still feel privileged to wake up early and meet up with the horsemen and women we film. I feel blessed to rub shoulders with our customers who are down-to-earth people and often have a modest living, but they are going to be dang-sure they take care of their animals’ health. I am humbled when someone stops me because they saw Silver Lining’s leaf on my shirt and they express their gratitude for helping to save their horse, or that our products provided them with hope, and I realize that they have lumped me in with the goodness that Silver Lining has demonstrated over the years because of what I represent. And each and every time I walk into Mick’s office for a company meeting and see the sign on the wall, “DO THE RIGHT THING”, I know that Silver Lining Herbs emulates the same type of qualities that branding calves taught me to try to live my life by.
You know the experiences in your life that you look back on and you just know they played a major role in shaping who you are? That is how I feel about branding cattle…and working for Silver Lining Herbs.