By Raiza Giorgi
JoeAnn Branquinho remembers helping her dad gather cattle at the tender age of 5, riding her Shetland pony along her family’s property in the hills of Foxen Canyon Road.
“Sometimes we would find a skeleton of a cow buried in quicksand in the dry Santa Maria River. Some don’t have the smarts to follow the others along the rocks. There isn’t another lifestyle that is so honest and therapeutic. I couldn’t imagine my life growing up any other way,” she said.
Branquinho was recently honored as Cowbelle of the Year by the Santa Barbara County Cattlewomen at their annual dinner at the Red Barn in Santa Ynez.
Branquinho said she was surprised completely at the honor and was grateful to her fellow Cattlewomen for choosing her.
“I am so touched, as this group has been in my life forever and I’ve made great friendships and memories with these ladies. Passing this lifestyle on is the most important to me, and seeing my children and their children, and my siblings’ children, doing it as well makes my heart happy,” she said.
The Branquinho name is known throughout the cowboy world. Her nephew Luke is a five-time world champion steer wrestler, and his brother Tony is a rodeo teacher at Fresno State University.
Branquinho grew up in the Los Alamos and Sisquoc areas with her brother John and sister Lori (Gonsalves). She recalls riding her horse to a one-room schoolhouse at Benjamin Foxen Elementary and then going right home to help her family on the farm.
“I love riding to the top of a mountain just to see what’s on the other side. There is nothing else like being out on the range, gathering cattle and being close to nature,” she said.
Her father would pay her in calves, which helped her build a herd of her own that she kept at an average of about 20 head.
“In high school my friends loved coming out and doing chores like shoveling manure and feeding the horses, cattle and other livestock because they didn’t have the space and freedom in town,” she said with a giggle.
After graduating from Santa Maria High School in 1961 she attended Hancock College for business management. She and her first husband, John Barlogio, married right out of high school and started an appliance business in Santa Maria.
“I received special training on how to use the microwave and even returned to AHC to teach a course in microwave cooking,” Branquinho said.
They had three children together — Terry, John and Tina — and they had their children in the saddle even before they could walk.
Her children are still involved with agriculture, as are her grandchildren, which Branquinho is most proud of.
Her son is a brand inspector in Montana and a PRCA rodeo judge, so she meets up with him at rodeo events to spend time together. Her daughters still live in the area, and Branquinho said she’s lucky to have family close by.
The Santa Barbara County Cattlewomen are a chapter of the statewide California Cattlewomen, which promotes beef and educates the public about it, from its nutritional benefits to the uses of its byproducts.
The Cattlewomen raise money throughout the year to be given to agricultural organizations that have a beef component, such as Future Farmers of America and 4-H. They also give scholarships for students looking to further their education in agriculture.