In a romanticized portrayal of branding day at a Western ranch, the cast is traditionally male: cowboys, ranch hands and horsemen doing the hard and dirty physical work.
But at a branding day on the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas this summer, photographer Mike Vanata found a different scene.
“It was mostly women who were doing the roping,” Vanata said. Women, too, were giving the animals shots, castrating them and searing brands into their hides.
“I feel like brandings in the Western world, it always seems to be a male-dominated thing,” Vanata said. What he saw on the Hell & Back Ranch, he said, “proved elsewise … it just shows that this is not a man’s world.”
Stirling Moore runs the sheep and cattle operation with her family. The fifth-generation rancher is also a pilot — she flies helicopters and airplanes over her acreage.
Moore approaches brandings as festive events. The theme of this one was animal print — evident in many of the cowgirls’ getups. The ranch held another this summer with a black tie motif.
“Ranching is a wonderful lifestyle with constant reason to celebrate but limited time to do so, so we give our brandings a theme to add a little ‘play’ to our work,” Moore wrote to WyoFile.
Vanata was there to photograph but said that like everyone else, he was expected to chip in. Every once in a while one of the girls would tell him: “Put down your damn camera and go brand,” he said.
“It’s one of those takes-a-village things,” he said. “But it takes a certain kind of villager to get that kind of work done.”