Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Brands in New Mexico

After you've spent a bit of time in New Mexico, you start to realize that you've seen an awful lot of cattle spread out across the land. You might just be looking at a few at a time, but after driving through thousands of acres, you just know that they have to add up.

The book Enduring Cowboys; Life in the New Mexico Saddle (edited by Arnold Vigil and published by New Mexico Magazine in 1999) tells us that as of 1997 there were still 26,000 brands registered in New Mexico. It also states that a 1997 New Mexico State University statistic indicates that there were 1,430,000 cattle out at pasture that year. That’s a lot of cattle wearing a lot of brands and, by inference, a lot of cowboys needed to do all those things that cowboys do.

Everything I know about cattle branding comes from a vague memory of a photograph of my father bending over a trussed up calf with a hot branding iron in his hand during a family trip to Arizona. I'm sure that his thoughts were nearly as wild as those of the calf, neither of them having asked to find themselves in that position and at that place and time.

I thought I'd do a little research into branding--a subject that never came up during my coursework in library and information studies back at the University of Rhode Island. Here is what I found.

The following information comes from the Cowboy Showcase website (“Trust your neighbors, but brand your stock”):

Branding of animals (and slaves) dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Modern brands come in two types, hot iron and freeze brands (the latter often used for horses). Tattoos and microchips can also be used as means of identification, but the brand is, of course, most easily visible.

Information from the New Mexico Livestock Board (“Your brand is your livestock’s return address”):

A brand costs $75 to register and is good for three years. The registration certificate gives the owner the right to use the recorded brand on an animal at a given location (left hip, right hip, left rib, etc.). Ownership of a brand is a property right and may be sold or transferred, although the fee for transferring the brand is also $75.

If the owner of livestock wishes to move his animals from one district to another, he must notify the Livestock Board and arrange for inspection of the animals, at fifty cents a head for cattle and bison.

Here is how you should read brands, according to the Cowboy Showcase website:

"Brands have a language all their own. That language, like any other, follows certain rules. The ability to read these symbols is referred to as "callin' the brand."Brands are composed of capital letters of the alphabet, numerals, pictures, and characters such as slash /, circle O, half-circle , cross +, _bar, etc., with many combinations and adaptations. Letters can be used singly, joined, or in combinations. They can be upright, lying down or "lazy," connected or combined, reversed, or hanging . Figures or numbers are used in the same way as the letters. Picture brands are usually used alone, for example a ladder or a rising sun.
There are three accepted rules for reading brands.
1. Read from the left to the right as ML (M L).
2. Read from the top to the bottom as (bar m).
3. When the brand is enclosed, it is read from the outside to the inside as (circle S)."

You should really visit that Cowboy Showcase to see all the examples of brands for yourself. After all, you wouldn't want anyone to hear that you were getting your branding information from a Yankee librarian lady, would you?

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