The art of cow cooperation.

I had the pleasure on this fine fall day of accompanying pops, just like old times, in bringing the cows home in fall roundup fashion.

My pops loves cows. He is first a horseman, but second a sort of cow whisperer. I am not kidding. It is, in its own way, extraordinary. His method for punchin’ cattle is not necessarily the bullwhips and whooping and hollering old western type of scenario most think of when visualizing a cattle roundup.

No, there isn’t even much swearing involved (unless I’m along. Then there might be a few slung here and there, I’m not gonna lie…) Anyway, the art of chasing cows with my pops is actually, I might stretch as far to say, a sort of “zen” experience, with the motto being, “slow and steady…let the cows think they are in charge.”

And really, they are. In charge that is. The cows. Because they will always outnumber us, no matter the strategy, no matter the brains and brawn you and the cow horse that is under you posses.  Most of the time things generally go as planned, with the cows catching wind of the horse at their backs and filing, nose to rump, on the trail to the gate. Just like pops had visualized. But then there are the days when the cows see that same gate open to greener pastures, and then choose, very casually, very snarky, to simply not enter and, you know, run as fast as their creaky legs can carry them to the nearest, most snarly, most thistle ridden brush there is on the entire place.

Yeah, I can see ya girl.

Then laugh and whisper to each other as pops and I discuss the idiotic fact that we own a pug, two labs and an old, crabby shepherd between the two of us and not one sense to possess a decent cow dog (whose job it is to correct these bovine attitudes). And then we proceed to dismount and walk into the critter and weed ridden brush to chase them out ourselves.

“Hya”  “Whoop.” “Come on girls.” “Yip. Yip. Yip.”

Arms waving, these are a few of the most choice phrases used by pops and me to encourage cow cooperation.

(I admit, I sometimes say “Dammit.” I know I shouldn’t, but I am passionate.)

Anyway, no matter the attitude, this type of situation is bound to occur on a cow-moving extravaganza, but it very rarely causes heart failure and hissy fits in the cowboy.  Because pops is a man who has been working cattle on this ranch his entire life, so he knows the drill.  He gets in their heads. He sees what a rebellious cow is thinking before she makes her move. He knows where all the gates are located in case the bovines get picky, he has been in all of the draws and has crossed all of the creek beds and has had to run damn quick to the tops of all of the clay hills. He’s got it down, so there really is no need to cuss, Jessie, geesh.

But for the last five years, pops has done this type of work, moving anywhere from 10 to 50 to 100 cows by himself on the back of his most savvy horse for years, being out here as the lone cowboy since his kids left home.

So he is really happy to have help, no matter how distracted that help may be by her camera and the lazy, spoiled pleasure horse she stupidly selected to take with her on the job.



But it all worked out, like it always does on this fine fall day. After watching as a few surly strays decided to run down the steepest cliff with the most thorns and bogs in the entire pasture, with pops in the lead, saying “Well, if this is how they’re going to be, we’ll just follow them around the entire pasture until they find the gate,” we calmly rode in after them. And then I remembered why cowboys wear chaps as one of those thorns found a home in my shin. I might have said “shit” but I can’t remember.

And then, after a few “Yip yips” and Hya”’s, like well trained beasts, they came out of the brush…and proceeded to head for the other side of the pasture to a lovely spot where a deep creek winds up and back again through cliffs and washouts and lots and lots of thistles.

We followed.

We followed as the cows, with their rather large calves at their tails, waded in mud up to their knees to get away from us. And then proceed to swim across the deep creek and climb and claw and scramble out its steep, 90 degree bank. You know, to get away from us.

I shook my head, kicked my pokey mount along and scratched at the thorn in my leg. Pops laughed and commented on how gorgeous the view is out here. He said this is his favorite pasture. He pointed out the nicest calf.

What a beautiful day.

And it was, because just as I was sure these cattle were calling the Greyhound Bus to get the next ticket to NYC  (you know, to get away from us) we popped up over the hill and saw them file in line behind their girlfriends and their babies who were making their way through the open gate.

Just like pops had planned. Just like he asked them to.

And as they all gathered for a drink of water before their final destination, pops looked out over his spread, their shiny black coats glistening in the sunlight and said, “Look at those beautiful cows. What a herd. Take a picture of that Jess. Those are some great cows.”

So I did. I took a picture.

Then shifted my lens to snap a picture of a cowboy. You know, a real one.

“Happy Trails Y’all”…well we don’t really say “ya’ll” around here…let me try it again..

“Happy Trails You Guys!”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Until we meet again.

10 thoughts on “The art of cow cooperation.

  1. Jessie I really loved this one! My grandpa, Jack Carr, is also a “real” cowboy…your essay resonated with me and the photography is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us…would love to meet your pops one day.

  2. From here, in my recliner with footrest up, it looks like such a great way to spend a day. And if I could ride a horse, it would be a great way to spend a day. Since I cannot and since I’m here and that day was there, Thank you for sharing. Even if you did say Damn! Actually, that’s pretty mild mannered these days.

  3. When I was young(3-5), my dad was a dairy farmer..There was a couple of times in the old days we would have to fetch the horses on our Palamino named Tony. Since I was a girl, when they were in there stalls gettin ready to be milked, I would go pet a few of them and even named a few. Melissa, SheShe, Martha, Rose and Rosie..uff’da. I use to find it funny how if cows got out of the pasture and were on the road, they would just look at u as if they didn’t know what to do..hard to get them to move. Happy trails Jessie. Nicole

  4. Cliffs? Mud? Thorns? Rebellious cows? I love it! Don’t think I could do it, but I nonetheless love the way you write about (and photograph) it. Happy Trails indeed! =>

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