I couldn’t help but notice that the smell of seared calf flesh and hair was almost identical to the aroma of the steaks being prepared on the grill behind the branding. Probably not a scene for most vegetarians. Cinematographer Scott Ransom hired Travis and I to shoot 2nd camera at an old fashioned cattle drive and branding Saturday in the spectacular Uncompagre river valley between Ouray and Rigeway Colorado. Hoping a few of Scott’s tricks and maybe a dash of his wisdom would rub off, we humbly accepted the gig.
The morning started off with a bang chasing a posse of local cowboys on our 2 borrowed 4-wheelers through a herd of edgy cattle and their soon to be castrated offspring. We learned quickly not to speak to another man’s dog [disrespectful to a cowboy] and not to tailgate a horse with an ATV. After an hour of coaxing stuck calfs from barbwire and roping rouge calfs that seemed privy to the ritual abuse to come, they were all led into a corral and painstakingly sorted.
Next came shots, de-horning, branding and castration. [all at once almost] Imagine being held down while someone rips off your man parts, gives you a shot in the neck and brands your ass with red-hot iron. For some reason I thought a tight rubber-band was used to slowly remove the calf testicles over time… I couldn’t have been more wrong. They snip off the sack, squeeze the not yet dropped balls from the tummy and rip them out using their bare hands. If this scene wasn’t dramatic enough, add over a hundred mama cows moaning and crying for their stolen offspring just outside the corral. Heartbreaking really.
The amount of volunteer work that went into the day was incredible. Cowboys young and old came to lend a hand, all for nothing more than a hearty meal and a few Coors [pronounced “kerz”]. Travis and I filmed and shot stills to our heart’s content, and ended the day with a fresh battered and fried calf testicle [Rocky Mountain Oyster] for good measure. I personally never need to eat another. Thanks to Scott for thinking of us, and to the locals for putting up with us city slickers. —Ben Knight