American cowboys used to begin their careers at the age of 10 or 11. They were considered to be in their prime around 13. The word cow boy originated from the fact that individuals tending to herds were most often boys. Today the same challenging work and title of cowboy is reserved for adults, though far less time is spent riding the range (thanks to the invention of barbed wire!) And although some lament that the life of a cowboy ain't what it used to be, don't try telling that to Luke Branquinho of Los Alamos, California. He currently ranks in the Number One spot in the U.S. pro-circuit for steer wrestling. Last year this REAL cowboy was 4th in the world!
The Santa Maria, Calif. born & bred outdoorsman grew up on a farm, and truly lives up to the title of "cowboy", having begun his Western adventures as a child. His parents, John and Brandy Branquinho, are ranchers who compete in team roping, as does Luke's brother, Casey. Another brother, Tony, is the rodeo coach at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. If you think that the mother of three strapping boys isn't proud, you should see Brandy Branquinho beaming, especially when they win a contest.
Is Luke Branquinho part of a dying breed of California cowboys who face tough competition when it comes to bringing home the bacon? California-the top producer of dairy products in the U.S., the inventor of cowboy heroes made in Hollywood, and the birthplace cowboy traditions introduced (along with cows & horses) to the west by Spanish vaqueros-sometimes shuns the cowboy and what he represents.
For instance, Alameda County requires that rodeos give a two-week notice of their arrival and requires that a veterinarian be present during all rodeo events, and Napa County, Pasadena and San Francisco have all banned rodeos. It's no wonder that cowboys in California often lose out to Texans and competitors from other states that continue to embrace old-fashioned rodeos and what they represent-the top overall rodeo competitors in 2011 mostly hail from Texas, Washington, Colorado and Utah.
The good news for California cowboys is that you probably still have a mama who loves you and is very proud, and in places where cattle graze and are used for beef, dairy and other foods, you have an industry and citizenry that mostly loves you, too. There are around 25 rodeo competitions remaining in California this year, and they'll take place in towns, cities and counties where cattle ranches are big business.
In large cities it's easy to lose touch with the realities of the cattle business. Millions of children have never seen a cow and mistakenly believe that their McDonalds hamburgers are manufactured out of thin air or from some magical contents-but certainly not from cows that are butchered, drained of their blood, and ground up into meat (my grandfather had a farm so I got to watch him do this.) One of the first things you learn on farms is not to become too attached to certain types of animals that are destined to be your next meal. Farming and ranching offer a different lifestyle, and not one that many city dwellers can understand or appreciate.