Branding Iron


Blaine Northrop
Chief Brand Inspector

As I said in my last column, the shipping season will be here before we know it, and now it’s here. I’m getting calls from producers and cattle buyers about having a brand inspector at their shipping pens. If you’re shipping cattle in the near future and are worried about getting a brand inspector, give the NDSA office a call so we can make sure we have people ready to inspect your cattle.

Speaking of brand inspectors, when you’re at the sale barn, take the time to say hello. The brand inspectors are in the pens every day of the week during regular and special sales to make sure every critter gets inspected. The minute cattle are unloaded, they are under the brand inspector’s authority. Every animal is documented in the inspector’s yard book after each load of cattle is inspected. From there, the brand inspector heads to the brand office, where every head of cattle is transferred from the yard book to the market inspector’s tally. You’ll notice brand inspectors rotating in and out of the brand office on sale days. They do this to speed up the process of determining ownership of the consignor’s cattle, so they can get their check in a timely manner and to put a proceeds hold on any cattle that are carrying brands other than that of the person who consigned them. This is when the consignor is put on notice that there is a problem with one or more head of cattle they consigned. 

Some holds can be cleared up before the day is over. However, in other cases, it’ll take more time. In any case, the brand inspector in charge of the market will have done his or her due diligence to contact the consignor about the brand hold. Proceeds held at the livestock auction for 60 days are sent to the NDSA office and filed under the estrays. Notices are sent to the consignor from our office, and we work to resolve them from there.

People don’t realize the millions upon millions of dollars of livestock that are sold annually and that each animal is looked at by brand inspectors. It doesn’t matter what type of day Mother Nature throws at them. To them, it’s not just another sale, it’s your livelihood, and they are doing their best to protect you.

In southeastern Nevada, there is a mountain range called the McCullough Range. In this area, there are wild cattle roaming the mountains and desert areas. These are cattle that were left behind decades ago by ranchers. This range is now controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In Nevada, all non-branded (slick) cattle on federal range are considered property of the State of Nevada.

Back in my Nevada days, I received a call from the BLM range conservationist stationed in Las Vegas one day. She informed me that the cattle in the McCullough Range had to be removed. Since they were state owned, it was the Nevada Department of Agriculture’s obligation to remove them. She also used the word “trespass” several times.

The BLM lady said they were going to rent a helicopter and fly the range to get a head count on the cattle and she wanted me to ride along. We agreed to meet at the Jean, Nev., airport about 20 miles south of Las Vegas.

I drove down to Las Vegas the night before and met the BLM ranger conservationist early the next morning at the airport. I walked up to her, and we introduced ourselves. She offered me a cup of coffee and a donut. I declined, telling her I would rather fly on an empty stomach in case I got sick because I was not a very good flyer. She reached inside the cab of her truck and handed me a bottle of pills. I asked her what they were. She said she takes them before she flies and never gets sick. She offered them to me, but I turned her down again.

About that time, the helicopter came in and the pilot introduced himself as a former helicopter pilot in Vietnam. It made me feel good to know who we had at the controls. We got in the helicopter. The BLM lady jumped in front with the pilot, and I climbed in the back. We got all buckled in, helmets plugged into the speakers and away we went. We flew across the desert for about 20 miles and started up the first mountain canyon we came to. We could see cattle tracks on the floor of the canyon and started to follow them. Things were getting a little tight as the canyon walls narrowed. It looked like the blades of the chopper were getting awfully close to the walls. When we got to the face of the mountain, the pilot shot the helicopter straight up and dropped us right into the next canyon as we worked our way out to the desert floor. This up and down was a little hard on the stomach. After about the fourth canyon, we shot straight up and hovered until the pilot came over the radio. “Get the puke bags!” “Can you reach the puke bags?” “Unbuckle and get the puke bags!” I knew things were going south up front, but I couldn’t see what was happening. I was snapping buckles as fast as I could, and was just taking my helmet off when the pilot radioed back and said, “Don’t bother. We are heading back to the airport.

”As we started for the airport, the pilot said, “Blaine, watch for power lines. I have to fly looking over my right shoulder. ” As we flew back, I’d call out the power lines and he would lift us over them. All this time, I hadn’t heard a word from the BLM lady.

When we landed, the BLM lady unbuckled and headed straight for the terminal. I got out and walked over to the pilot’s side. He was just climbing out and was a mess. The pilot had vomit from the top of his left shoulder, across his chest and all over his left leg. The BLM lady had gotten him good. The instrument gauges looked pretty bad too. 

He looked at me as he was peeling off his pilot suit and said, “Thanks for watching for power lines. If I would have looked down, I would have gotten sick too.

”The pilot cleaned himself up and found a clean flight suit. He called for another pilot, because he was too nauseous to fly. He said he would fly co-pilot, and the guy he called in would fly the helicopter. He looked at me and said, “Looks like the BLM gal is riding in back with you. ” All I said was, ”Thanks a lot! I wish I had my slicker!” 

The BLM lady came back after cleaning herself up, and we all climbed back in and flew for another six hours or so.I often wondered if she took more of those pills. In the end, it was not a bad day. We found lots of cattle.

Over the next few months, we would manage to water-trap a bunch of the cattle, but that’s another story.


North Dakota Stockmen's Association * 407 S. 2nd St. * Bismarck, ND 58504 * 701-223-2522 *