SHELLEY — For about 45 years now, Shelley High School ag and FFA students have roped, mugged, vaccinated and branded cattle at the Kelley ranch.
Last week, about 80 students got the job done in no time in an outdoor classroom of sorts and afterwards were treated to a hamburger lunch by the Kelley family.
“This is the most fun you can have in school. This is good clean American fun and the kids are having a riot,” said Lyle Zaugg, one of three SHS ag teachers.
After the early-morning sun burned off a stubborn heavy fog, the students separated into groups and were given instructions by SHS ag teachers Zaugg, Vince Wray and Kody Howells. Oakley Remington, 16, picked Wray’s group to learn more about vaccinating. Experienced students teamed-up with the teachers to help other students.
Along with branding, the calves were given eight-way booster vaccinations under the skin and a dose of nasal-administrated spray to help prevent pneumonia. Remington helped vaccinate.
“I want to be a vet someday so this is a great opportunity,” Remington said.
Howells said a branding like this is often the only one some students will ever experience.
“I’ve never done this before but it’s a lot of fun,” said Brooklyn Lester, 15. “My dad, Darren Lester, has talked to me about branding when he was young, so that’s why I wanted to come out to the branding today.”
While some students roped the calves, others vaccinated. Still other students, including Maddy Martin, 16, and Olivia Wootan, 16, branded with electric brands.
“You have to make sure the calf is lying flat so you can apply the brand evenly,” Martin said, and Wootan added, “You want to press the brand firmly but not too hard so you don’t break through the skin, which can be really hard when the calves squirm,” she said.
The whole idea of having students help with branding was cooked up in 1972 when Zebbie Miller began his first year as an ag teacher at SHS. Miller is now retired. One of his students was Dale Kelley, the son of Gerald and Helen Kelley who ranched in the Bone and Shelley areas. Miller asked Dale Kelley and some of his other students about their family’s branding operations. When Miller pitched the idea to have students help brand at the Kelleys’, the couple eagerly agreed. Soon Miller’s students were helping the Kelleys and at other area ranches too during branding.
For all but the past three years, spring branding was done at the Kelley ranch in Bone. Over the years, the event became popular among the students.
“When we’d get the first warm days in the spring, the students would start asking, ‘When are we going branding in Bone?’ ” Miller said. “And over the years, the ladies would get in and work just as hard as the boys. One of the highlights was going to Bone for the entire day.”
Lifelong farmer and rancher Gerald Kelley believes kids benefit from learning to work and to learn by doing.
“When kids go to different places and learn by experience it’s better than learning just by hearing stuff,” Kelley said.
The experience has been a win/win for both the students and the ranching family that today includes the grown Kelley siblings and many in their families. The entire family continues to be big supporters of the ag program, ag students and FFA.
“Zebbie thought we were doing him a favor,” Helen Kelley said. “When in reality, he was doing us a favor.”