I've covered this sort of event before, so I won't repeat myself. But each time I come to Kapapala, I see and learn new things. So let's talk about that.
In the past I've watched from behind the corral fence. A safe place for a novice to be. But after a few farm visits, I guess I've passed the test since we were invited to observe from inside the corral. In fact, we stood under the supply/hospitality tent, watchful to keep calves from entering the area and creating havoc. Only a couple of calves considered charging through the tent and we proudly prevented them from destroying the area. Ha! We had a job! ....happy to contribute to the event. I don't know if it was intentional that we had a job, but just steering two calves aside made us feel a useful part of the cowboy community.
Ranching is often a family lifestyle here. Youngsters are around cattle from early on, watching, learning, and eventually helping.
They learn to handle horses while still quite small, and seem to enjoy watching the calves, learning about their dispositions, body language, "cowness". The calves too seem curious about the tiny humans.
I'm often asked by folks not living here if the Hawaiian cowboy still exists. Of course! Many also have jobs that have nothing to do with ranching, but they are skilled cowboys nonetheless. So for some it's a weekend job (and wow, what a dream part time job!), and for a few it's a lifestyle.
And for the working farm dog, it's their entire existence. They live and breath to work. Even at an event like this where their help is not wanted, they find it hard to resist missing anything. They intently watch from the sidelines, wishing and hoping they'll be asked to join in.
Thought I'd show you what they use to quickly vaccinate so many calves. Since each calf is only down for seconds, things have to be done quickly. Special syringe-like "guns" hold special made vials of vaccine or medications. A squeeze of the handle injects a pre-set dose. Zap. Done. Each calf received three injections. Because of the brief time limit allotted to work each calf, three people were needed for this task. They walked from calf to calf, administering their dose while others completed their own tasks.
Extra syringe guns are kept ready in waiting inside a cooler.
Past readers have fixated upon the branding aspect of these work events. Branding is indeed by hot iron, a procedure that takes 3 seconds. The irons themselves need to be kept properly clean and heated. This ranch has homemade iron heaters that work off of propane. The one pictured below is shutdown already, so you don't see the flame inside the cylinder. But these homemade iron heaters work really good for the job at hand.
Multiple branding irons are used so that there is a constant rotation and readiness of the irons. Each ranch has its own unique brand so that ownership can be quickly determined from a distance. No need to endanger a person by getting close to a touchy cow.
I'm not going to get into the argument of the pros & cons of branding here, mainly because people have no personal experience working with wild ranch cattle. If you've never worked with them, you can't possibly understand the problems of dealing with them.
Another procedure that is done with the calves is castration of the males. These calves are all fairly young, making the procedure quick and usually not bloody. A ultra sharp knife, an emasculator, and a skilled cowboy gets the job done incredibly quickly. Emasculator? That's the instrument that is used to remove the testicles in a manner that does not cause bleeding. It cuts off the testicles while at the same time crushing the blood vessel shut. If done by a skilled hand, it is quick, effective, basically bloodless. This event had several emasculator a ready for action. Extras were stored in surgical disinfectant until needed.
Before I get lots of emails telling me how castration isn't needed, let me say this. Castrating the 250 or so young bulls will allow all 500+ calves get a chance to spend their time eating, relaxing, and being peaceful. Being around a bunch of horny young bulls is NOT a fun experience. Every cow is on edge, nervous, can't get the time to eat enough, to relax and sleep enough. It just ends up with a herd of skinny, poorly developing calves. Bull calves don't stop to eat. Heifer calves are constantly harassed. Not good.
By lunchtime all 500+ calves were done and back with their moms. After watching the herd for a half hour to look for any calf having a problem (there were none), the herd is released back into the pasture. On the couple of branding events I've attended, I haven't seen a calf get into trouble yet. But I'm sure it could happen, so skilled watchful eyes scan the calves before sending them and their moms back to graze.
Speaking of eating, it's now lunchtime and time to feed the 50-60 helpers. This ranch produces a great BBQ lunch for everyone before they head home.