MILFORD – The scene at Duane and Lisa Drost’s Milford farm last Saturday was reminiscent of something out of the Old West.
It featured 90 pair of cows and calves, horses and ranch hands – complete with cowboy hats, boots and lasso ropes; burgers, beans and a fire.
And branding irons.
The Drosts care for those cow/calf pairs, which belong to the Jim and Sharlene Buss family of Atkinson, Nebraska.
The Drosts took the cows in because of dry conditions in the west.When it came time for the calves to be branded, Jim Buss contacted the Drosts to find out when they could come to do it.
But Duane Drost had other ideas.
The founder of Bless You Inc. – a nonprofit organization which brings temporary housing to victims of fire or natural disasters around the nation-Drost told Jim Buss that he could bring his crew in to brand the calves if he could turn it into an opportunity for people in Iowa to see how it’s done out west.
Then he made a fundraiser out of it for his ministry.
“Thank you for helping us to help others,” Drost told the crowd. “Every cent given goes to help someone else.”
To date, Drost and his organization have delivered 16 trailers to displaced families in Illinois, Oklahoma Colorado, Nebraska and Washington state, to be used for temporary housing until their homes could (or can) be replaced.
Nicholas Waldo, a rancher near Amelia, Nebraska, in the north central part of the state, arrived with the Buss family and said branding cattle is something that is most often done with the help of neighbors. He said it’s a big job to do alone.
“It’s a lifestyle,” he said. “We might get between 30 and 50 guys together, and it don’t seem like work because we’re all so glad to see each other after we’re done calving out.”
Waldo said ranchers out west commonly calve from February through May, so they don’t leave home very often. Many of them live tens of miles from a town.
During the typical branding process, he said they vaccinate the animals, castrate the males that will be used for meat consumption, because it enhances the flavor of the meat, and some are de-horned to prevent other animals getting gored – protecting the animal and the meat quality.
Waldo said a crew of 60 men can get through 1,000 head in five to six hours. He said most guys can get through 300 or 400 head in an afternoon. One might help brand 5,000 to 6,000 head each year.
Branding is done primarily to identify the owner of the animal and to protect cash flow for the farmer or rancher, since, he said, there still are cattle thieves around.
Brands are designed and registered through the state. Waldo said Nebraska is a “brand inspection state.” Cattle sold there are inspected by someone from the government to ensure a particular brand belongs to the person who is there selling the cattle.
Waldo said the crew he’s with uses the heat-branding method instead of freeze branding because it takes less time and makes a more accurate mark. He said heat branding also shows immediate results compared to freeze branding-the results of which are known only if the hair doesn’t grow back on the area where the brand was placed.
Waldo said folks who aren’t around the process of working cattle might not understand the necessity of the process, and he said they were a little nervous to come before an Iowa crowd of onlookers because of it.
“It’s our way of life,” he said. “What we do is what’s best for them as a cow – herd husbandry and animal welfare is our main concern. It’s what we do.”
He said the cost of learning the process can be high.
“If you’re not pulling your weight and a calf runs over the top of you or a horse kicks you, learning can be expensive,” he said. “Every situation can be hazardous, so we work hard to make sure things run smooth and prevent injuries to us and the animals.
“I’ve roped a 1,200-pound calf by myself to treat it, but it’s not like you see at the rodeo. You have to work it a little longer.”
Waldo said branding calves and working with them can be a rough life, but in the end it offers something that other lifestyles can’t offer.
“I can take my 4- and 3-year-olds out with me when I take my older two and go check cows – even if they’re in their pajamas right before bed time.
“It might be 9 o’clock at night, but it don’t feel like work. We do things a little differently than folks do here, but the goal is still the same – it’s all about family.
“We want the same things for our kids as you want for yours – a good work ethic, morals and values.”
Bless You Inc.
Skip Conner, director of the Joshua Foundation, an outreach center which helps people in need, said it was a blessing when Drost called asking if their people needed temporary housing following F3 and F4 tornadoes that ripped an area in Oklahoma two years ago that was 12 miles wide.
“Seventy percent of these people don’t have insurance,” he said. “They ended up living with families until their homes could be repaired, and some received these trailers.
“Those with the trailers said they didn’t know what they would have done if it hadn’t been for them.”
Conner said the people of Oklahoma finally wound down on the tornado, and then this year got 20 inches of rain in May and 10 inches in June, resulting in flooding. He said they were grateful for rain, but also had new displaced families, some of which received trailers to call a temporary home.
Southwest RV, in Sheldon, matches donations up to $3,000 toward the purchase of a camper for Bless You Inc.
Said Drost, “We want to give these people a gift that is a gift every day – housing.”
Drost and members of the Bless You Inc. board of directors drive the campers to locations where they are needed.
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