After cows in the Wild Lands
Today, I helped my friend Geren gather seven cows, grazing in a meadow 15 miles from a corral and 20 miles from the ranch. Rather than spending a day and a half ground-driving them back to the ranch, we decided to build a temporary corral of metal fencing panels, push them into the enclosure and load them into a horse trailer. The problem with the plan is that these cows run wild in the high desert and mountains most of their lives and can run like a herd of deer. The cattle were spotted the day before on ‘Long Meadow’, located in a 200 square mile plot of private timberland, situated between two pieces of National Forest on which Geren has grazing leases. An approaching storm, with about a foot of snow was expected tonight, so we were in a hurry to get the cows back to the ranch.
This morning, we found the cows grazing on the back side of the same meadow. It took a half hour to build a temporary corral with eight panels, using his open horse trailer on the back side and my truck and trailer as one of the wings to funnel them into the enclosure. For the other wing, we used a thick stand of lodgepole pine.
For the gather, I was riding Brandy, my saucy little half Arab, half Quarterhorse mare that is full of energy. With just a little knee pressure or a touch of a heel she’ll go from a dead stop to a full run in one leap. I hate to think what would happen if I ever rode her while wearing spurs. A high energy horse like this can be a pain in the butt to ride, but when you need to get the job done, she’s always there. After putting in a 40 mile day, Brandy will chase after a stray cow with the same energy and speed that she has at the beginning of the day.
The cattle were grazing about ¾ of a mile from the corral, so we stayed about 300 yards back in the woods as we circled around them. The plan was for Geren and Candace to slowly drift them up the meadow while I, mounted on the fastest horse would walk up a parallel dirt road keeping pace with the riders in the meadow, being prepared to head the cows off in case they bolted for the woods.
Unbeknown to us, the herd spotted the horses as we were circling around them. By the time we started our drive, they had already traveled several hundred yards up the meadow and had entered the wood line. I was just in time to see the last cow cross the road, running like her tail was on fire. With just a touch of my heels, Brandy bolted up a rock strewn hill, leaping over fallen trees on an intersecting path to head off the cows before they escaped. My mare was going way too fast to guide her around the all the obstacles, so I just trusted her better eyes and judgment to lead us through the forest as we raced to head off the cows. By coincidence, the cows were headed directly for our temporary corral.
Once we reached flat ground, my little speedster flattened out into a dead run. Pulling up in front of the enclosure, I saw that we had beaten the herd there by a matter of seconds. Using the corral as a backstop, I managed to keep the herd bunched up for two or three minutes , long enough for my riding partners to catch up with us. Shortly thereafter, we drifted them into the corral and pushed then onto the trailer.
It only took one hour to make this gather; 30 minutes to set up the corral, 15 minutes to circle around behind the cows, 3 minutes to run back to the corral and 10 minutes to get them loaded. This was considerably better than a 20 mile walk through the woods. In fact, so much of the day was leftover, after we got back to the ranch, we had time to go out and gather another 18 pair that were hanging out in the forest, five miles from the ranch.
I always did like a horse with plenty of ‘Get Up and Go’!