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Episode 7: Kids Know Why: Ranching and Rodeo

Kids Ask Why
Kids Ask Why
Episode 7: Kids Know Why: Ranching and Rodeo

Kids can be experts about a lot of things, too. Megan Smith and Emily Buckles, educators at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, found that out as they turned the tables in this episode and interviewed three kid-experts. Cinch and Chauncey Dalton have been ranchers their whole lives, and they explain all about branding cattle in Wyoming. Cali Jo Johnson comes from a family of rodeo riders. She helps listeners understand about youth rodeo and her family’s strong connection to their horses.

Cinch Dalton

My name is Cinch Dalton, and I live outside of Cody, WY. I am 13-years-old. I enjoy playing football and wrestling and running track. I love working with my dad on the cattle ranch. I own three ponies. I’ve lived on some of the largest cattle ranches in eight states.

Chauncey Dalton

Hi I’m Chauncey Dalton, and I live near Cody, WY. I am nine years old. My favorite sport is baseball and I made the all-star team. I also play football. I like to move cows and I own four ponies. I love to rope calves on the ranch and help when all the new calves are being born.

Cali Jo Johnson

Cali Jo Johnson is a 10-year-old Native American going into the 5th grade. She is a very bright student and loves school. She is the daughter of Dylan Johnson and Kari Zubach. Cali Jo participates in all kinds of sports and has been on a horse since a very young age. She comes from a long line of cowboys/cowgirls on all sides of her family, who continue to participate in the sport of Rodeo.

Emily Buckles and Megan Smith

Emily and Megan work in the education department at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and are producers for the Kids Ask Why Podcast. Emily is the Interpretive Specialist and Natural Science Educator and Megan is the K-12 Curriculum and Digital Specialist.

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For additional information, vocabulary definitions, activities and more click here!


Why, why, why, why? 

Why branding is important. 

Why, why, why? 

Why is the rodeo so important to your community and your family? 

Welcome to kids podcast where the kids answer the questions.

A production by Wyoming public media and Buffalo Bill Center, the West. 

EMILY: Hi, my name is Emily.

MEGAN: And my name is Megan. And guess what? We’re not kids. We’re adults. And we’re asking the questions.

EMILY: Yeah, we’ve met some fascinating kids around the state of Wyoming who do some really cool things. And we thought we would turn the tables and have us interview them, like they were the experts.

MEGAN: Such a great idea. I can’t wait to learn from the kids. 

EMILY: Great. Me too. 

MEGAN: So I’m interested in this because every time I go on a road trip in Wyoming, I see cows everywhere, especially this time of year with all the moms and their babies. But I’d like to learn more about what it’s like to work on a ranch.

EMILY: Yeah, and when we work here at the museum, we learn a lot about or we are starting to learn a lot about cowboy history. And I also just am really interested in the difference between cowboy history and what modern cowboys are doing. And I find that really interesting today in 2021 that we still have cowboys, and I want the world to know a little bit more about what modern day cowboys do. Today, we’re talking with two young cowboys Cinch who is 13 years old, and Chauncey who’s nine years old, and they have been cowboying their whole lives. And they are experts on the subject of ranching and branding. And we thought it’d be really fun to talk to them about what they do each year when branding season comes around.

MEGAN: Okay, so let’s just start about why branding is important for ranches.

CHAUNCEY: Branding is important because one that if your cow gets lost, people know to bring it back to you. And if someone tries to steal your cattle, and you have ownership for it. 

EMILY: Are you guys involved in the branding process?

CINCH: Yes, we I am involved in banding process, how am I involved? I rope the calves. I wrestle the calves. I give them vaccines. I castrate them. I give them ear notches. I just do everything in branding mostly.

EMILY: So you might have to explain like what each one of those little details was, Cinch, so if you could start from the beginning.

Roping a calf

CINCH: So roping is where somebody would rope the head of a calf and drag it to the fire, which is where the branding irons would be, which is what we brand a calf with. And someone would rope the hind feet so then the cowboys can brand it. Then the vaccinations are where we give it shots. Vaccinations keep it healthy and strong. Castrate it- where we turn a bull to a steer. And then ear notching is where we give them an ear notch. 

EMILY: Why do you give ‘em an ear notch? 

CINCH: We give it on the bull, so I know that it’s a steer.

MEGAN: Do you do all of this out in the range where the calves are? Or do you bring them somewhere?

CINCH: We we don’t do it out in the range but we kind of do but we have a branding pen with panels around so that it can be set up in the pen so then they don’t get away.

EMILY: Chauncey, what are your jobs when you’re out branding?

CHAUNCEY: Usually when I’m branding, I have to rope like Cinch said– someone heads in heels it– and then castrate and give them an ear notch.

EMILY: So is it hard? I mean, I’m a non-cowboy. So sometimes it’s maybe hard for some people to see branding, do you think that it hurts the calves? Is that something that you guys think about? Or is it all just part of the process?

Branding a calf

CHAUNCEY: It’s part of the process and it kind of hurts because the branding irons are hot. But once it’s done, they’re not in pain. 

MEGAN: So I have seen (because there’s cows all over the place when we drive around here in Wyoming) and I’ve seen some are branded, and some have ear tags, some have both. What’s the difference?

CINCH: So the ear tag, the ear tags they could have little brands on it or have the name of the ranch on it so then they know it belongs to that ranch. The brand is where you put the banding iron on the calf, so that it is very visible. But the ear tag when people do both, it’s so they know that it’s better. Most cowboys do it, so when they ship the cattle, it’s easier for the guys who ship it to see it because they’ll see the ear tags instead of the brand in the semi. 

MEGAN: Huh. I never knew that. Did you? 

EMILY: That’s the answer. Cool.

EMILY: So help me understand like how many calves could you potentially brand in a day when you’re out there branding? Are you doing hundreds of calves? Are you doing like 10? What? How many calves can you do in a day?

CINCH: We can do up to at least 800 

EMILY and MEGAN: What?! Whoa! 800 cows?

CINCH: From 6:00 to 12:00 with 80 cowboys.

EMILY: So six hours you could do, how many did you say? 80, oh 800 cows!

CINCH: With 80 cowboys to help us. 

EMILY: Oh, you have 80 cowboys. So you don’t have 80 cowboys on one ranch, so do you guys pull together a whole bunch of ranches together to brand?

Branding a calf

CINCH: Yeah, so we have neighbors that, so some guys they brand before us. So we go help them. And then when it’s our turn to brand, they come and help us. In our little brandings we have like up to 200-400 calves. But then the big big brandings is at least 800 to 600 groups, where then we need the 80 cowboys. But the little groups really need like 40 cowboys to get done.

EMILY: That number just blows my mind away 800 in a day with 80 cowboys all working. Now are these cowboys your age or most of them older? 

CINCH: Most of them are older, but there’s some kids that come out and help us as well.

MEGAN: Is the idea to get all of it done in one morning?

CINCH: So in the morning, you wake up mostly, you would wake up at 3:30 in the morning, leave at 4:00, start gathering the cows at 5:00, start your branding at 6:00, try and end it by 12 or 1:00.

EMILY: So Chauncey, what’s your favorite part of the whole branding season?

CHAUNCEY: My favorite part is getting to know new people as they come and help us and getting to just work and feel included on the ranch.

EMILY: Is there, when you’re out there, you’re like that guy’s a really good brander. I mean, are there people that are kind of like really good at this job that you sort of strive to be? So what makes a really good cowboy, or brander?

CHAUNCEY: Someone that can do most of the jobs and can help other people that don’t know what to do. And while roping they can help someone if they get in a bind, which is in a bad position that could lead to trouble. 

MEGAN: So wait a minute, are you saying this can be dangerous sometimes? 


MEGAN: Like what could happen?

CHAUNCEY: When you’re roping either you could have a rope go up your horse’s tail, and then it would start bucking and you could fall off. Or while you’re branding if the ropes not tied enough, they could kick you. Or sometimes even if you’re not careful, you can get the brand, the branding stick that’s as hot can touch your your skin which would hurt.

CINCH: Which has happened to me once. I actually got branded.

EMILY: You have like a tattoo from a brand?

CINCH: It’s not on me anymore, but it lightly touched me and it kind of hurt for a little bit. And you can also be dangerous when your castrating them because you can cut your hand open, which cowboys do all the time. You get rope burns. Horses could blow up, cows could charge you. 

EMILY: Um this sounds very dangerous. 

CINCH: But it’s fun at the same time. 

EMILY: So what’s your favorite part? 

CINCH: My favorite part is mostly roping the cows, and wrestling them. 

EMILY: Do you guys know the history of branding? And can you tell us a little bit about that?

CINCH: Branding started, it was like sometime in the 1800s, but they didn’t have panels. So you just get all the cows in one little circle. Then you just have all the cows just sit there and just rope the calves and drag them up. But they wouldn’t have a branding pot. They’ll dig a hole put wood in it and have the metal irons in it. Like they still cowboys do that today. But they’d have panels and they’ll still dig a hole in the dirt and put the irons in it.

MEGAN: And they started branding for the same reasons you still brand today.

CINCH: Back then they really had to brand because there were a lot of cattle rustlers who like to come steal the cows from everybody. And when they ship them on the trains, they would know which ranch they belong to. 

CHAUNCEY: Still today, a lot of people steal ‘em in weird ways. 

EMILY: Oh really? What’s one of the weird ways?

CINCH: They’ve actually they, they used a U-haul and they put cows in it when people weren’t watching and they think they just be delivering stuff but they weren’t. But then they found them.

CHAUNCEY: Someone tore everything out of a camper. It would just put it in there, then they got pulled over for speeding and the officers like, “what’s in your trailer?” They’re like, “nothing.” And then he looked back and he found that it was just full of cows.

EMILY: So the letters on the brand I know they’re kind of funny and different, but they’re all kind of connected together. Right? So each brand is specific to each ranch. Right?

Branding irons

CINCH: So if a ranch in what way is called Pitchfork, they would have a Pitchfork brand. They’d call it the Hoodoo, they have a paint palette. There is a paint palette is because the history of that ranch. Its first owner was a painter. So it was a paint palette, or like another ranch in Oklahoma, there’s is an A, or our brand, which is a D- a cursive D. And then there’s other brands who are buffalo horns, horseshoes… 


CINCH: The hanging J, the hanging F, the hanging T, the broken heart with an arrow through it.

EMILY: So each ranch would come up with an identifying symbol and that would be their brand. 

CINCH: Yes, each ranch has their own kind of brand. 

EMILY: And you said yours is a cursive D? 

CINCH: Yes. And we brand our horses with it. 

EMILY: Oh, you use that to brand your horses.

CHAUNCEY: Our personal brand. 

EMILY: Your personal brand. Oh, that’s cool. And that comes with you wherever you guys go. You can keep that brand, right?

CINCH: And you don’t just brand cows, you can put it on horses as well. 

CHAUNCEY: But there’s many ways to brand a calf. You can use a hot iron or you can use one that you just plug in. 

CINCH: An electric iron. 

CHAUNCEY: Yeah. And there’s also a cold brand, which we use for our horses. You put it in freezing cold. 

CINCH: It’s hydrogen peroxide. 

CHAUNCEY: And then when you take it out, you put it on, and it sticks for a while. But sometimes they’ll disappear. 

EMILY and MEGAN: Oh, my gosh, I never heard of cold branding. This is amazing information.

EMILY: Thanks so much for coming in today. You taught us a lot about ranching and branding, guys.

CHAUNCEY: Thank you for letting us come.

CINCH: Thank you and adios! 

MEGAN: We definitely want to learn more.

ALL: Yippeeee Kayaaay!

EMILY: Megan, that’s an awesome interview. I love talking to those kids.

MEGAN: I went in knowing nothing about branding. And now I there’s just so much new stuff that we learned today. 

EMILY: I know, and I have so many additional questions. But one of the cool things that I learned was just all the new equipment that they wouldn’t have had 100 or 200 years ago that they now use in branding. Like they said the electric brander.

MEGAN: That surprise me too. And they even do cold branding. I’d never been heard of that. What really surprised me though, is that it takes 80 cowboys and cowgirls to get this done in a day. 

EMILY: Yeah, and that they can brand that many calves in one day. That’s amazing, but it’s cool too that they still work together as a ranch. In my mind. I was thinking that was kind of old time cowboying, but they still work together with all the ranches in the area and do this every year and they rely on each other to do it. 

MEGAN: They do and they celebrate their teamwork at the end of the day with a barbecue. I think I’d like to go the barbecue not sure I want to do the branding. 

EMILY: It sounds like such hard work but those boys seem to love it. 

MEGAN: They really do. 

MEGAN: Hey, Emily, have you ever been to the rodeo here in town? 

EMILY: Yes, we try to go every summer because the rodeo here in Cody Wyoming is a really big deal. 

MEGAN: It is a really big deal. And you know the nights I don’t go I can actually hear it from my house. We can hear the people cheering as they cheer on the bronc riders and the bull riders.

EMILY: Neat. One of my favorite events to see at the rodeo is the barrel racing. Do you have a favorite event?

MEGAN: You know, I love the bronc riding. I think it’s amazing how brave those cowboys are when they’re bronc riding. But you know, it’s not just about the adults at the rodeo.

EMILY: That’s right. Did you know that kids can be involved?

MEGAN: I did. And we’re so lucky that Cali Jo is here. She’s 10 years old. She’s a barrel racer in youth rodeo.

EMILY: That is so cool. And she’s also a Native American. And from what I understand, she’s a member of three different tribes. She is part of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, the Yakima Tribe, and the Blackfeet Tribe. And she lives up in Montana and knows a lot about the rodeo.

So Cali Jo, what events do you do in the rodeo?

CALI JO: I barrel race, um, and do polls mostly. If I do go to this one rodeo I go to, I’ll do flags, too. 

MEGAN: And what rodeo was that?

CALI JO: The young riding series.

EMILY: Can you explain to our listeners what barrel racing is?

Cali Jo barrel racing

CALI JO: Barrel racing is, so there’s going to be three barrels and they’re going to be set up like a triangle and you can go right or left. And if you go right you have to go on the right side of the barrel, then on the second barrel,  you go on the left, and then on the third barrel, which is the top barrel, you go on the left again, and once you turn around that you run home.

EMILY: And the point is, you try to do this as fast as you can? Do you remember your best time?


EMILY: 18 seconds, that is fast!

MEGAN: Cali Jo, can you tell us how you learned to barrel race?

CALI JO: You just have to let your horse kind of memorize the pattern. So you can keep getting faster every time. 

EMILY: Tell us more about the event that you called flags.

CALI JO: Flags is where, there is going to be two barrels. The first barrel will have a bucket of like, full like halfway of grain. And then on the second barrel, there’s gonna be another bucket. And there’s gonna be a flag in it. But what you’re gonna do is, they’ll give you a flag, and you run towards it, but don’t turn all the way. And you just put it in the bucket- the first bucket, and then you go to the second bucket and pick the flag out of that bucket. And then you run home.

MEGAN: So how old were you when you started barrel racing? 

CALI JO: I don’t know, probably one or two when I started doing it. 

MEGAN: Wow, really, you were one or two?

CALI JO: No, I think I was two when I started doing it. But what they do is, I’d have this little tiny saddle and then they’d put me on it. And I just hold on to the horn as tight as I could. And I try to keep my balance, and my mom, she would like have a halter on my horse. And she’d lead me with her horse around the barrels or she’d lead me on her feet. So I’d just be there, like holding onto the barrel, or holding on to the harness.

MEGAN: So your mom was leading your horse. And then you learn to do it on your own.

CALI JO: I finally learned how to do it. And I was like, probably three.

MEGAN: Gee, you know? I know I was a kid when I first learned to ride a horse but I know I wasn’t that young. I was probably, I don’t know, fourth, fifth grade or so. Why do you like horseback riding? 

CALI JO: I don’t know. It is just fun going fast on a horse. 

EMILY: What’s the hardest part? 

CALI JO: Holding on. Trying not to fall off. 

EMILY: What horse do you ride?

CALI JO: Pepto. He’s a sorrel. 

EMILY: What’s a sorrel? 

CALI JO: So, he’s like a reddish orange color. 

MEGAN: So how often do you ride? 

CALI JO: Probably like twice a week. 

MEGAN: And if you don’t ride for a while, is it hard to get back into it?

CALI JO: No. It’s like once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget.

MEGAN: So you are part of the youth rodeo but you’re also a part of Indian rodeo. I’d love to know the difference between Cody night rodeo and Indian rodeo.

CALI JO: The Cody night rodeo is more of just like a one night thing where like you can just enter and win and then you can go back the next day. But like the Indian rodeos are like where you want to qualify for something at the end of the year in like October, so you can finally like go to the big one. And then once you do… In the rodeos there’s like a lot of small like rodeos that then you like have to be in the top numbers to make it to the one that in October and it’s called the INFR in Las Vegas at southpoint.

MEGAN: So Cali Jo, do you win prizes for the barrel racing events and the flag event?

CALI JO: Um, you can win like money, buckles, saddles. Sometimes even boots. Well, not boots for my feet, but like my horse’s feet.

MEGAN: Oh my gosh, boots for horses. That’s funny. I never really thought of it that way. But congratulations. It sounds like you’ve done great in your events. 

EMILY: Why is the rodeo so important to your community and your family?

CALI JO: Oh, just cuz like our family has been doing it for so long.

EMILY: So how long has your family been rodeoing?

CALI JO: Five generations. 

EMILY: Do you have siblings? 

CALI JO: I have one sibling. 

EMILY: Does your sibling rodeo, too? 

CALI JO: Yeah, but right now he’s more focused on basketball cuz he can only do that for so long. Because he’s in high school. 

EMILY: What do you think your parents like about the rodeo? 

CALI JO: I know my dad like he just likes winning money, being out with his friends, and stuff like that. My mom doesn’t do it as much as she used to anymore though. Now she kind of works for the rodeo.

EMILY: So Megan, I really enjoyed listening to Cali Jo talk about rodeo. What kinds of things did you learn? 

MEGAN: You know, Emily, I really loved hearing about how her family has been a part of rodeo for five generations, and she’s continuing that. I loved learning about that in the barrel racing, of course.

EMILY: Yeah, and just how important the horses seem to be their families. So horses and rodeo just are a part of their everyday and their everyday culture, and that really struck me.

MEGAN: Absolutely. I especially like when she talked about how she and her horse work together and barrel racing to memorize- it’s that neat relationship, for sure.

EMILY: I also thought her description of the flag event was pretty neat and it’s something that I’ve never seen in the Cody Nite Rodeo. And I think that’s something that’s pretty specific to youth rodeo. So I thought it was fun hearing about how you throw it out is a little different than adult rodeo. 

That’s why we know WHY!