During the age of the Great Cattle Drives, the practice of branding made it easy to identify the owners of cattle. Branding allowed herds to be combined and help fight against rustlers.
A man approaches with a glowing iron, fresh from the fire, and clasps this, hissing and seething, upon the shrinking hide. A malodorous cloud of smoke arises from the burning hair. The iron cuts quite through the hair and full into the hide, so the mark shall never grow over again with hair. A piteous bawl arises from the little animal– a protest half drowned by the rush of mingled sounds about. Meantime, a third man trims out with a sharp knife the required slice, if any, which is to be taken from the ear or dewlap to complete the registered mark of the owner. In a moment that calf is released and shoved to one side to rejoin its mother, who mutters at its injuries and licks it soothingly. The calf stands with legs spread wide apart, sick and dizzy, and dispose to move, and shorn for many days of much of its riskiness.
Mother and calf alike are hustled out of the way. The tally man count out, “Bar Y, one calf.” Another calf is by this time coming skating up to the fire, and again the iron is hissing. Meantime the hubbub and the turmoil increase, until all seems again lost a chaos. Taught ropes across the ground in many directions. The cutting ponies pant and sweat, rear and plunge. The garb of the cow puncher now is one of white alkali, which hangs gray in his eyebrows and mustache. Steers bellow and run to and fro.
Cows charge on their persecutors amid confusion and great laughings. Fleet yearlings and young cows break away and run for the open, pursued by cowboys who care not how or where they ride. The dust and the lowings and bellowing and runnings wax until all seems hopeless. Yet all the time the irons are busy; all the time the calves are sliding up to the fire; all the time the voice of the tally man is chanting, and all the time the lines of the figures are growing longer on his grimy pages.