Posted by: Abe's Blog | March 20, 2010

Chicken Branding

Here, in our third installment of the chronicles of my life as a free-range chicken wrangler, we delve into the psyche of the wrangler and examine the effects of isolation and over-indulgence of beans and rice upon his frame of mind. For the prequel to this story, please read “Chicken Frost”.

The world of free-range chicken ranching has changed quite a bit from the years that I spent in it. Nowadays, every fowl is injected at birth with a Global Positioning Sattelite Systems Locator Beacon (GPSSLB), which can be accessed by the rancher using an “App” on his i-Phone.  Of course, the chickens don’t know that they are emitting energy beams which are picked up by orbitting sattelites and bounced down to a tiny phone; they still wander around on their stubby little legs, pecking at horned toads and scratching for pine beetle grubs as if the world is theirs to rule. And fact is, they do rule their world–right up until the Automated Poultry Decapitation Machination Contraption (APDMC) separates their tiny heads from their fat bodies. Yes, my friends, times have changed. Back in my day, we could see sattelites tracking through the night sky, but they didn’t help a whoosit with keeping track of chickens. Back then, we had to track ’em on foot or by quad. Back then, we had to brand every chicken so’s we’d know if it were property of the Three Toed Chicken Ranch or not. 

Branding chickens is no walk in the park, unless the park happens to be full of burning feathers, squawking birds, fowl excrement, and one-eyed screaming men. Chicken branding is man’s work, though I’ve seen a woman or two who could hold their own–fact was, they seemed better able to endure the pain of being pecked by an errant beak or gouged by a sharpened accessory metatarsal claw. Theoretically, it shouldn’t matter if the ranch-hand is male or female. But in point of fact, throwing a member of the fairer sex into the mix causes some consternation among the boys, many of whom have not seen a woman since arriving at the ranch. These boys will fall all over themselves to be extra “helpful” to a lady and she will quickly find herself smothered in kindness and showered with gifts ranging from special hand-crafted wooden fork and spoon sets to pretty rocks found in the desert and spit-polished to a brilliant sheen. All of this is probably why Dixon, the ranch owner, tends to keep the women away, except during branding times when the extra help is needed.  I didn’t get caught up in all the hullabaloo, choosing to mind my own business and work hard on the branding, pausing from time to time to rub the sore spot on the back of my head from where my spit-polished rock had hit me after being carelessly tossed away by an ungrateful lady.

Chicken brands are different from cattle brands. For one thing, they are smaller. Each rancher has a brand that is uniquely theirs and is registered with Table of cattle earmark codes and shapesthe Free Range Association of Poultry Ranchers of America (FRAPRA). The brands are fashioned from bronze welding rod following FRAPRA’s branding guidelines. On branding day, we would heat the brands in tiny fire pits until they were red hot. At this point, the branding would commence. Branding a wild chicken is really a six-man (or person) job. First up were the Grapplers. Four of the most wily wranglers would surround the subject, arms and hands held in front of them as if preparing for a karate match, knees bent, eyes focused intently on the chicken in question. On a signal from the lead Grappler, all four would pounce on the bird and wrestle it into submission. Then the Shaver would rush in with a disposable razor all lathered and ready. The back of the chicken’s head would receive a quick shave to expose an area of skin, and the Brander would run over with the red-hot rod. The branding itself didn’t take too long; a quick sizzle, a wisp of steam, and the process was complete. The offended subject was then allowed to run off in clucking madness or, as was the case of many a Banty rooster, to turn in rage upon their protagonists, attempting to inflict the most pain in the shortest amount of time. For this reason, the Banty roosters were always saved for last, in hopes that they would disappear before their time of reckoning was upon them.

Yes sir, the times they have a-changed. I now own my own piece of the dream, a six hundred and forty acre spread just north of Beatty. I’ve put in my time on the dirt farm and now I can sit at my kitchen table with my laptop and control my vast chicken empire through the miracle of remote control. Using a powerful search engine and my advanced thought-processing skills, I discovered a recent scientific study by Dr. Wolfgang Wiltschko, The magnetic compass of domestic chickens, Gallus gallus. After reading the summary of this study, including the discussion of how iron deposits in the chicken’s beak allow them to use magnetic compasses as long as they are not confused by an oscillating field of 1.566 Mhz, I have invented a roving magnetic robotic wrangler, which I have named Odey, after my small dog. Odey guides the chickens to fresh water holes, keeps the coyotes away from the flock, and discourages the local meth cooks from setting up shop on the ranch. Once every year, I fly over in a Sikorsky Sky crane and sweep low over the ranch, dangling a powerful electro-magnet. The chickens are sucked up to the magnet and held by their iron-rich beaks for the short flight to Howard’s Chicken Nugget factory in nearby Bly. I then return to my gated castle to count my money.

Some things change; some things stay the same. I may be rich. I may be powerful. I may have all of the trappings of a successful and beautiful man. But underneath it all, I am still that poor, dumb free-range chicken wrangler who showed up in the dead of winter all those years ago.

Never forget thy path, 
Nor forsake thy roots. 
Remember that the rising of the sun
Signals only the coming of the night.

File:Orpington chicken head.jpg



  1. I chocked on my coffee reading this. You’re a mess, Abe! I love your story telling… particularly when it involved chicken 🙂

    • Thank you, Suz. I’m glad I survived that life to bring this tale to the world. It’s a story that needs to be told.

  2. I hear ya, Abe! And you and Wolfie got me wanting to get on wordpress. How’s it working out for you? How do you put the cool pics in your blog?

    • WordPress is cool. It took me a bit to figure out how to use all of the options, but there are really a ton of things that you can do, all directly and specifically related to blogging. There is also a cool Stats thing that lets you see where your readers are coming from, how many are there, and the emails of those who subscribe via email. Email subscribers get your blog posted directly to their emails.

      Putting the pictures in the blog is pretty easy–the blog writing page has a bunch of nice features, including an “add image” app that pops up another window with tons of options. At first, I was downloading pics from the web and then uploading them to my blog (they get saved in a gallery and you can use them again). But today I figured out that I can just “Copy” them from any website and Paste them right into my blog. After they are in the blog, I can click on the picture and choose some cool edits–I can re-size them and choose left, right, center alignment, etc.

      It really is a great site for blogging. You won’t get as many commentors, but it’s a nice place to write stuff! You may find that you write in a different style here than you do for all of your readers on Myspace. Try it! C’mon!


      • This is a *great* read, Abe. You have a unique voice and viewpoint that you’ll never read anywhere else. Those chicken stories are just hilarious.

        And I echo what you said about WordPress. Even at this late date after being here for a few months, I’m still finding out new stuff. I’m going to have to write a love-letter over on Myspace again just about this place. It is such a cool place.

        And it seems to be the best one out there. I’ve tried and, well, you can’t do commenting on there like you can here. You can’t reply to individual comments, in a thread, like you can here for example.

        • Thanks, Wolf. Yeah, I think I still have a blog site over on However, I may be the only living soul who knows this…I wasn’t too impressed. Enjoying this site!

  3. Yes! More chicken wrangler stories.

    • Thanks, Ken. When it’s from the heart, it has so much more meaning.

  4. I’m… speechless. Believe me that doesn’t happen often. However, I do believe you’ve done it. I’ll have to go think on this one for a bit. LOL This one goes a bit beyond thought provoking.

    • Heh, heh. Don’t think too hard, it’s all in fun!

      • Relieved to hear that. When I post my “X vrs. O” story, you’ll understand why I was actually horrified for those poor chickens for a minute or two. It was a big hit with the folks at Long Ridge several years ago. Seriously though, great blog.

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