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June 28, 2013 10:00 PM

The Branding Tradition

Timber Lake, SD

In some parts of KELOLAND getting together with friends means going to a coffee shop. In other parts it means chasing a cow.

Many west river ranchers take part in a long standing tradition of branding cattle and look forward to the event every year.

If you're not willing to put yourself in the path of a running cow or tackle a calf, branding day on the Gill Red Angus Ranch near Timber Lake isn't one for you.

"We've been doing it this way for 40 years here at our place," Larry Gill said.

Branding cattle that is. As far as Larry Gill is concerned, it can continue for the next 40 years.

The day begins with cowboys on horseback riding out to pasture to gather the cattle. After bringing them into a corral, they separate the cows and calves. Ranchers run the cows through a shoot and give them all shots.

Then they rope calves and hold them down to vaccinate and brand them. The process leaves a mark on the calves showing who owns them in case they get out or mix with another rancher's herd.

In addition to identifying cattle, branding serves as a way of life in ranch country.

"I guess we wouldn't be here if we didn't like what we're doing. We do, we all love what we're doing here," Larry Gill said.

They love it enough to do it for free. Larry Gill and his sons ranch together. Others who attend their ranch’s branding are just helping. Jason Anderberg comes 35 miles.

"For the most part all the ranchers in the local area get together and do these brandings and it's just a good community, good event and good people to be around," Anderberg said. “It's just kind of the way it's done around here.”

When Anderberg is branding, the Gills and others will head over to help him too. No one's logging hours. No one's making sure they spend equal amount of time at each ranch. No one in this group wants that to change either.

"Probably some time down the road it will but hopefully not. We all would like to work together and it's just a good neighborhood we live in," Bryan Gill said.

"It's just kind of an enjoyable time we get to visit with each other and have a good day," Larry Gill said.

That's something they're continually passing on to the next generation. Bryan Gill remembers hanging out around the corral during branding as a kid. Now his sons are doing the same.

"Oh there are always kids at a branding," Larry Gill said.

Larry Gill says those kids start helping with small things and eventually jump on a horse and help gather cattle too. That's another tradition held to by many ranchers in western South Dakota. Four wheelers help with the round up sometimes but not for the most part, not with the Gills and their friends.

“No sir, nope, nope,” Anderberg said. “I don't know if it's out of tradition, arrogance, I don't know what it is, but we like to do it the horse way.”

That, and the terrain in no-man's land can be tough for ATVs. The cattle and cowboys are also used to the horses Anderberg said, much like the rest of the yearly get together that clings to many traditions of the past.

"It is a culture. It's a tradition and it's the way we do it and hopefully it stays that way for more generations," Bryan Gill said.

With multiple kids watching brandings today, it looks like it might.

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