Australian Bronco Branding (Broncoing)

Due to increasing labour costs, the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Scheme (BTEC), and introduction of weaning on properties that formerly didn’t wean, many more sets of drafting yards were built during the 1970s and early 1980s. Eventually cattle almost everywhere were branded in calf cradles rather than being broncoed (bronco branded) – pulled up to a panel by a bronco horse (cow horse) and greenhide rope (bronco rope).

During the 1980s broncoing (more recently referred to as ‘bronco branding’, perhaps to make it clearer to those unfamiliar with it, what it is) was developed as a sport by old bushies who didn’t want to see the skills disappear. The first bronco branding competition was held in Alice Springs in 1984. It is a specifically northern & central Australian outback sport with annual events held in western Queensland and a couple of NT locations during the dry season, except in drought years when there are insufficient stock in good condition. Annual broncoing competitions are still held in northern South Australia although thanks to the rabid southern Australian RSPCA members intent on banning all sports involving livestock, there is a fairly hefty list of rules that now apply. (More on this sorry saga on another ‘Blog’ page. Animal rights extremists have publicly stated their ambition to make all rodeo events illegal.) Bronco branding competitions have also been held at some of WA’s Kimberley rodeos. However bronco branding rodeo/campdraft events are often reliant on a relatively small number of enthusiastic volunteers, so the disappearance of just one or two key people results in the cessation of this unique event.

Dates of upcoming bronco branding competitions can be found on the Bronco Branding Australia website.

When two catchers are working with an experienced team, broncoing can be quicker than using conventional yards and branding setups, and it quietens the cattle and is less stressful. If there are very small calves in a mob and the branding yards are a long walk away, broncoing the youngest calves can save a huge amount of time and help keep the calves and cows in better condition, especially beneficial when seasonal conditions are less than ideal.  It’s also useful in the channel country during very wet years when it is not possible to walk cows and young calves to the nearest yards because of flooding.  However broncoing does involve more skill than running cattle up a race and it requires trained bronco horses.

Bronco branding is one of the most interesting and enjoyable horse sports to watch — there is competition within the team to be the best, as well as competition against other teams. The old bronco horses know exactly what to do and enjoy their work, and are a joy to watch.

As a spectator sport it beats campdrafting hands down – campdrafting is like watching the grass grow by comparison. Bronco branding involves of a lot of laughter – whether it’s on a station or in a competition, there is a lot of cheek being given, and the blokes (and women) strive to beat one another.

The art of making the greenhide catching ropes is an additional skill.

There are still several cattle stations that still do some broncoing as part of their normal work routine, and two of these are featured in a special chapter on bronco branding in the book ‘Life as an Australian Horseman’.