FIRTH — Each April at the Reid Ranch, relatives and friends gather to brand the new calf crop the traditional way, with ropers on horseback and irons heated in an open fire.
The day before, cows and calves are herded from the calving grounds a short distance to a pasture where portable iron panels are assembled into a large corral. The morning of the branding, a square hole is dug and in it a wood fire blazes, heating a half dozen branding irons.
This year, spring is especially welcome at the ranch, since for weeks East Idaho and the rest of the world have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated stay-at-home rules and sanitation and social distancing recommendations.
“There’s no such a thing as a 30-day quarantine on a ranch,” said Conner Reid, who along with brothers Lucas Reid and Tye Reid hosted the branding. “It’s nice to see people continue the things that have to be done in the farming and ranching world. Farming and ranching are an essential business and sometimes there are risks, but you have to get out of your comfort zone- your bubble, and get things done and we like to have some fun doing it too.”
This year marks a milestone of when the Reid brothers’ great-great-grandparents Nels and Emma Just first settled the Presto Bench area overlooking the Snake River Plain from the east.
“We’re pretty proud of our heritage,” Conner said. “This year marks a century and a half that our family has been here, and my brothers and I and cousins are proud to work the same ground that our great-great-grandparents did all these years later.”
The brothers have started taking steps toward transitioning into the operation as their parents, Casey Reid of Presto and Carol Reid of Goshen, each start new chapters in their lives.
“I’ve gained a lot of experience by working side by side with my dad since I graduated from high school 10 years ago, and Lucas and Tye have worked in separate industries away from the ranch but they’ve gained a lot of business management experience and have brought those skills back to the ranch. Eventually we want to get large enough so they can come back to the ranch full time,” Conner said.
The brothers have improved and have added to their Black Angus-cross herd.
“I’ve been the manager of the cow herd and for the last decade and have done lots of work to cull the least desirable cows,” Conner said. “Genetically we’ve improved the overall structure of our cattle so that now they grow bigger, faster.”
Tye and Lucas and their wives Heidi and Rachel and young children return to the ranch often, and branding day is always a highlight. It’s a day to socialize with family and friends but also to do something they love, like working cattle, as generations have done before them.
Seated among the fire’s red-hot coals, the branding irons slowly come to life. They’re used to permanently mark the lone pine brand on the hides of 2-month-old calves. Like the ranch, the brand has a long history.
“The brand originated with my great-great-grandfather Nels Just,” Conner said. “It’s meaning with a bar added underneath is a lone pine standing on solid ground. I think there are quite a few locations around named Lone Pine but it’s kinda neat to have a brand coincide with an area near here.”
With everything in place, the work began by separating the cows and calves. The cows were eased out into the pasture by cowboys on foot and horseback leaving a corral full of calves. Six ropers took turns heading and heeling each calf and dragging them to the fire where ground crews went to work branding, vaccinating and ear tagging.
In the past, the family has used the Nord Fork to brand, which was invented by local rancher Nord Hill. The tool fits around a calf’s upper body, eliminating the need for a header, but this year the family went back to traditional heading and heeling with ropes.
“We did a test run this year by heading and heeling,” Conner said. “We worked pretty close to 200 head in five hours so we figured we worked a calf every minute and we wanted to get back in touch with the roots of the industry.”
Area ropers came to help ease the workload and to practice a sport they love, including cousin Jess Reid who also ranches in the Presto area.
“Jess is the kinda guy I mold myself after, I’m trying to get to where I’m as successful a cowboy as he is,” Conner said. “He’s into his 40s now and does a lot of things really well. He reads cows really well and makes really good horses: he’s a damn good cowboy.”
The brothers are grateful for relatives and friends who lend a hand, and sometimes they become business associates too. One such friend is Liz Moore, who met Lucas Reid when both attended the University of Idaho. Moore has been helping with branding and roundups for about five years now for both families of the brothers’ parents.
“I give Conner great praises; he’s very patient. Some of us don’t have ranching backgrounds but given the opportunities over the years with the Reid’s, we’ve developed into a pretty solid crew,” Moore said. “We’ve gotten the experience of how the operation works, and I love how he shares his family history. Now that the brothers have children, it’s great to see how they’re raising them right along with the lifestyle. We all understand that this is their work and their livelihood, but they want us all to have fun too and to not be afraid to ask questions either.”
Moore, of Boise, is an Agri Beef brand marketing specialist, and with her help, the Reid brothers have marketed their beef under the Agri Beef Double R Ranch brand for the past two years. Double R Ranch beef is sold in Albertsons throughout Idaho and can be found in local restaurants.
The relationship is especially valuable as beef prices have come under considerable pressure lately.
“There’s been a historic fluctuation in beef cattle prices recently, but the Reids contracted their cattle early on with us and locked in a price. This helped minimize market risk by holding those cattle longer given the volatility,” Moore said. “The relationship is equally valuable to Agri Beef because the quality of the Reid cattle has stood out every year and fits with the Double R Ranch beef program well.”
Conner added, “Liz has taken really good care of us, she likes our cows and always brings enough Double R Ranch beef for a couple of meals.”
Conner said roping and branding the old-fashioned way puts a big smile on his face.
“It was a beautiful day to brand,” he said.