Tagging Cattle: The Bunger Ranch — Pandale, TX

Off an unpaved caliche county road, the Bungers have been working the Pandale hills since 1896.
Tagging cattle proves to be an essential step in keeping the well-oiled machine that is The Bunger Ranch running.

Reporting and web design by Bianca Smith. Photography by Mason Adams.

G.L. "Louis" Bunger rests while his ranch hands wrangle cattle to be branded. Photo by Mason Adams.

4:00 a.m.

Wake up

Nana's ranch-style house in Ozona sits at the edge of a block in the middle of town — and although you could probably hear a pin drop on the pavement at any time during the day, the silence in the early morning was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

Splashing water on our faces and getting some food in our stomachs only cut our grogginess slightly. When George "Louis" Bunger IV walked in to pick us up for our day of tagging cattle, though, we saw that we had no excuse not to be wide awake.

He wore a white button-down shirt fastened into his jeans by a leather belt. His cowboy hat and worn-down boots seemed to accentuate the intrigue that his short bursts of conversation spurred. There was an efficiency about everything he did, and it prompted us to eat quickly so we wouldn't keep him waiting.

5:00 a.m.

Load equipment

In 2012, sales of beef cattle in the United States totaled $29.6 billion, accounting for 7 percent of total U.S. agriculture sales, according to the Census of Agriculture’s Cattle Industry Highlights Report. Between 2007 and 2012, sales increased 19 percent ($4.7 billion).

91 percent of beef cattle operations in the U.S. were family or individually operated, and Texas topped all of the states in sales, raking in $13 billion.

* * *

Louis's Ford F-250 parked outside of Nana’s front lawn spanned the length of a limo — not only was the car itself particularly large, but the equipment cage fastened to the back of it added to its size.

It took a full two hand grip on the inside of the passenger-side door to hoist myself into the car, and once inside, I was almost immediately covered in West Texas dust.

Jon (left), Louis (middle) and Mason (right) shoot at the rocky Pandale terrain after tagging cattle. Photo by Bianca Smith.

One of Louis's three steers eyes the camera as the calves are moved into their pens to be tagged, branded and castrated. Photo by Mason Adams.

As of 2009, local officials reported that 25 people lived in Pandale, TX. Photo by Mason Adams.

6:00 a.m.

Pick up extra supplies

We walked into a supplies store to pick up more anti-worm medicine that would be sprayed onto the cattle while they were in the holding gate. Louis told Mason as we were walking into the shop that they were going to prank the owner.

He proceeded to tell the owner, deadpan, that Mason was interviewing him for a big art school documentary that would be shown up in Chicago. Louis picked out his supplies without being bothered while Mason distracted the owner. Neither of them broke character, and once we returned to the truck we all burst into laughter.

* * *

The Bureu of Labor Statistics outlines that Ranchers' duties include:

Evaluating market conditions and the availability of federal programs; purchasing supplies such as feed, vaccinations, and machinery; adapting duties to the seasons and weather conditions; maintaining facilities, such as fences and animal shelters; serving as the sales agent for livestock, crops, and dairy products; and recording financial, tax, production, and employee information.

7:00 a.m.

Drive from Ozona to Pandale

With Louis's window rolled down so he could wave to the locals:

“My great-great-grandfather came to Texas in 1888 — he was on the Henderson side of the family, or my Dad’s Mother’s side. G.L. Bunger came to the states from Germany when he two-years-old, with his family settling in Illinois as farmers. G.L. and his brother left Illinois and ended up in Maynardville (modern San Angelo) in 1896. They worked for a man herding sheep before G.L. came to Ozona and opened up a dry goods store. It was only shortly after then that he opened up a ranch in Pandale.”

"So, this ranch has been in your family for over 100 years. Were they branding their livestock back then, too?"

“Oh yeah — they were tagging and branding all the way back then. There weren’t any fences — this country was just open. The Hoover family came in here around the time the Henderson’s did. Their cattle would get mixed up so they started branding for identification purposes.”

Pandale became a ranching community around 1928. Photo by Mason Adams.

Both my favorite and least favorite ranching memories were herding sheep with my friends. We’d drink coffee over the campfire — it would be so early in the morning that it would still be pitch black out. There were no lights anywhere…In 50 years I don’t think a lot of the old ranches will still exist. More corporations will own the cattle industry, but the push for “organic meat” might keep some small operations around.

Jon Adams, George "Louis" Bunger IV's brother-in-law

Ranch hands set up equiptment before wrangling calves to be tagged. Photo by Mason Adams.

8:00 a.m.

Unload equipment

As Louis pulled into the ranch, four other ranchers appeared. One ran to open the gate for us, two walked down to the pens, and the other saddled up his horse to alert George Louis Bunger VI (G.L.) that it was time to set up the squeeze chute.

We drove the truck into an open area that the sheep had run out of, right up against one of two main pens. The cattle noticed us unloading the Ford, perking up every time the dusty-blue metal of the chute clanked around in the equipment trailer.

After all four ranchers, Louis, Mason and I worked the equipment out of the car, it was time to start making our way to the tagging site.

9:00 a.m.

Set up equipment

Here's the equipment needed today:

  • Squeeze chute
  • Loose metal grates
  • Anti-worm spray
  • Branding tools
  • Knife
  • Rope
  • Bucket full of water
  • Rag

  • * * *

    The ranchers came together to talk through their game plan — they decided that half of them were going to seperate the female calves from the male calves while the other two built the tunnel that led to the squeeze chute.

    Mason and I retreated to the background in an effort to stay out of their way, and assisted only when asked. They had done this countless times before, and they made these very physical tasks look effortless.

    A rancher tests the anti-worm spray before the cattle are tagged. Photo by Mason Adams.

    Although enviornmental and political challenges become increasingly more present, Louis and his son, G.L., plan on keeping their family's tradition alive. Photo by Mason Adams.

    A calf is tunneled towards a squeeze chute to be tagged. Photo by Mason Adams.

    10:00 a.m.

    Round up cattle

    Getting the cattle into the chute may have been the most difficult part of the day. Louis and G.L. stayed out of the pens, Louis with a knife and G.L. with the branding tool.

    The other ranchers were luring the cattle from the pen into the maze that they had created, twisting and turning them until the calves realized what was about to happen. That’s when they had to be distracted — with whistles and ropes and slaps on the back.

    11:00 a.m.

    Tag cattle

    Louis operated with ease — each calf thrashing in the chute were sprayed with their anti-worm medicine, tagged, castrated and branded in under three minutes. Once Louis was done, they jumped out of the holding contraption relieved.

    He didn’t miss a beat, signaling to his fellow ranchers to move another one in while he wiped his gloves on an old rag. He repeated the process almost thirty times, working through all of the pens until all of his young cattle could be identified out in the Pandale hills.

    After breaking down the squeeze chute and loading the equipment back into his truck, Louis invited everyone out to eat at The Restaurant Next Door.

    “We’re just an old traditional working ranch,” Louis said. “I’ve raised my kids here. We’ve had a lot invested in [the ranch], but the biggest investment I have in this is for my kids and my family.”

    A calf is branded for identification purposes. Photo by Mason Adams.

    I grew up with [ranching] and I love it. The family heritage, carrying it on and raising my kids here — and the land that my grandfather, my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather came in here — we still have it, we still ranch it and we still operate it.

    George "Louis" Bunger IV, Cattle Rancher

    Final Thoughts

    I expected that I would have to endure this experience — there was a part of me that truly dreaded it, but I was definitely intrigued: how could one find happiness in such routine and isolation?

    The gore of cutting and branding and tagging aside, Louis and his family had been fulfilling their destiny for five generations. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, a “small town” was 30,000 people. Towns like Pandale or Ozona were unfathomable — but they exist, and they're perfectly content with what they are.

    The Bungers don’t wonder about what life is like outside of Pandale and Ozona. They don’t need to — it is all they’ll ever know. As a visitor to this simple, rugged, idealist environment, I couldn’t help but envy their reality.

    Whenever I’m overwhelmed by the weight of my responsibilities or the intensity of the city, I’m able to think back to the stillness that falls over Pandale once the sun goes down, and the songs the sheep sing when Louis drives by.

    An Interview with G.L. "Louis" Bunger

    Great-great-grandfather J.W. Henderson (Dad’s mother’s grandfather) — the little boy in the center of the photo is G.L. "Louis" Bunger's great grandfather Roy Henderson.

    Right: G.L. "Louis" Bunger's great grandfather GL Bunger. Left: G.L. "Louis" Bunger's grandfather George Bunger.

    Bianca Smith


    Bianca Smith is a senior at Columbia College Chicago, majoring in Journalism with a concentration in Magazine Writing and minoring in Fashion Business. Her anticipated graduation is May 2017.

    She is currently the Content Management Intern at Modern Healthcare magazine as well as a Floor Leader and Store Ops Specialist at LUSH Armitage.

    In-between classes, she has completed an editorial internship at Modern Luxury Interiors Chicago; has worked as a co-managing editor on Fashion Frank digital magazine, We Are #BLM Chicago Profiles online gallery and Shredded webzine. Honing in on her organizational skills, she was able to maintain a 3.8 cumulative GPA, a part-time job and a very small social life.

    Mason Adams


    Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Mason Adams is a cinematographer currently residing in Chicago, Illinois. Adams has shot multiple short films that have been accepted and won awards in film festivals such as Dallas International, Chicago Cine Youth and Chicago Shorts Festival.

    After completing a production internship with Guy Bauer Productions, he was taken on as Key Grip and has since been named a Director of Photography. He continues to make strides — and laughs — in the office as well as on set with clients.

    Post-graduating college, Adams plans on challenging his creativity by always practicing his craft and eventually shooting feature length films. He can be found exploring whatever environment he is in, film camera and light meter in hand.