An Inside Look at Cal Poly's Calf Branding

Contributed by Olivia Chamberlin | Agricultural Communication | Grass Valley, CA

In December of 2019, I attended my first Cal Poly cattle branding and roping. For those who are unfamiliar with this event, let me share my experience with you.

When I moved to San Luis Obispo and started to meet people in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, I began to hear about branding. I soon learned that it is a traditional event held by cattle ranchers who gather together to mark their cattle as a sign of ownership. A brand is the design that ranchers choose to identify their cattle with. Cal Poly’s brand looks like this: “-P”. Aaron Lazanoff, the Beef Operations Manager, says that Cal Poly has used this brand since 1901.

Cattleman aim to use a simple brand because it is easier to identify. Cal Poly’s brand is registered to be used on the left shoulder as an attempt to blemish the most unusable part of the hide. Branding is an important identification process because it marks cattle permanently, whereas ear tags can get ripped off, or removed if is someone tries to steal the cattle.

I arrived at Cal Poly's Escuela Ranch at 7:30 am and saw trucks and trailers with saddled horses. This is when I realized how impressive the event was going to be. My friend and I walked into the corrals, eager to get started and saw about 120 cattle ready to become official Cal Poly calves. 

Nearly 25 students and faculty members were busy preparing for the branding by digging a fire pit to heat the branding irons. Others loaded vaccinations into syringes and mineral capsules to aid in a research project conducted by Dr. Zach McFarlane.

I offered to grab my camera and capture the action-packed event. It was important for me to stay out of the way while taking photos.

A team of six people jumped on horses and rode into the corrals. In teams of two, the riders worked together to rope the calves while the ground crew would administer the vaccines, mineral capsules, and brand. 

Payton Thomas, an animal science major at Cal Poly said, “Cal Poly brandings are unique because of the people. There are students who grew up attending a dozen brandings a year and students who may have never been to a branding at all. No matter your skill level, you can try a variety of jobs including vaccinations, castrations, and hot iron brandings. Most brandings have a hierarchy where you must work your way up the ladder, but at Cal Poly the Learn by Doing motto holds true, and students get to try a variety of tasks without fear or pressure”.

The crew was very patient and emphasized that safety was the first priority. Not only did this provide a safe environment for the students, but the animals as well. 

All said and done, it was a wonderful experience full of education and we ended the day with a BBQ lunch provided by Cal Poly Meats.