Cattle Round Up Time

Lauren Curd

The term 'cowboy' is usually associated with tough, grizzled American desert folk who drink in saloons, shoot Indians and traverse the Wild West on horseback. You would think that these people are a thing of the past but you’d be wrong. The modern cowboy is a herder who not only rounds up the cattle but prepares them for a long drive from their summer pasture to winter meadows. Their job has not changed for over a hundred years and while Hollywood has immortalised the role, the heart of a cowboy is only for his herd. The stereotypes are not completely unfounded however as they need to show determination, courage and extreme resourcefulness to overcome many hurdles, like those of flooded rivers, waterless plains and stampedes.

Two cowboys rounding up cattle in the USA

Originally starting in the mid-19th century, a cattle round up traditionally takes place twice a year, once in spring to move the cattle from their winter abode to the summer pastures and again in fall (autumn) the other way. It can take a while to gather up every animal as many smaller herds can wander off, dispersing themselves over the many square miles of mountains and forest. Finding them can become a hunt and it can take a week or so to gather them all in. Round up time involves a lot of graft on a working ranch. Calves need to be sorted, separated, marked and shipped; cattle must be branded, neutered, inoculated or sent to market; and the farms needs maintenance and work before the drive, in which you transport the animals from place to place.

Feeding the cattle in a barn on an American ranch

The drive itself is a different event entirely. Once the cattle have been rounded up and are ready for transport, there could be close to 3000 animals that will need moving from the depleting grass of their summer home to fresh vegetation in the winter months. For the drive, you’d need between 12 and 15 drovers to help control the animals. This usually consists of the Trail Boss, a cook, a few wranglers and several assistants. There are ranks within the cowboys too: The Trail Boss will decide the route and where you’ll be sleeping, lead riders will guide the herd, flankers would walk alongside, and ‘drag’ riders were kept at the rear, usually eating the dust created. At night, teams of two will take it in turns throughout to ensure the cattle are happy and sleep well. Due to their singing in an effort to stay awake, plus the fact that they’d circle the herd constantly, the name coined for this duty is ‘Night Hawks’.

Man feeding cattle on an American ranch

The first cattle round ups and drives took place in Texas, providing major economic activity from 1866 onwards. They would travel from the dusty dunes of the Lone Star State to the lush prairie lands of Kansas. This practise expanded all over America and to other countries where summers are hot and the winters are just as cold, most notable being Argentina and Australia, where the drives are very long. Several towns were set up along the routes and trails, providing brief food, water and rest breaks for the animals and their handlers. For the most part, herds can travel between 10 and 12 miles a day but if the cattle are particularly energetic then they could go up to 24 miles a day. Running is kept to a minimum in an effort to leave the animals fat, healthy and ideal for the market.

Three cowgirls on horses in river in USA

Cattle drives and cattle round ups remain a very important part of ranch life across America today. Many working ranches welcome guests on holiday to come and stay for a week or two and roll up their sleeves to get stuck in with the authentic ranch work during spring and autumn. One of the most popular ranches with our clients keen to experience this unforgettable event is the Kara Creek Ranch in Wyoming. Other genuine ranches offering cattle work include the Lucasia Ranch in Canada, the Burnt Well Guest Ranch in New Mexico, the Williams Family Ranch in Arizona and the Chico Basin Ranch in Colorado.

 

**This blog post was previously published on Medway Leisure Travel, now trading as Pettitts Travel**