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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Cow feed,
from slab to sack

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Today as I pass by the towering feed bins on ranches and observe the automatic feeders in ranch pickups, I shake my head remembering the good old days. Like all progress, the evolution of ranch livestock feeding has changed greatly, and for the better.

Our former ranch owner, Charlie McMurtry, great uncle of Larry McMurtry of "Lonesome Dove" fame, told of his earliest efforts at winter-feeding range cattle. It seems the cotton gins of the area were seeking more profit from processing cotton and began compressing cotton seed and gin trash retracted from the cotton into slabs with the seed oil tying it all together like glue.

The slabs came out from rollers like sheets of plywood about two inches in thickness. Gin employees broke the hot slabs into large chunks and stacked them on edge in boxcars for shipment.

When a rancher purchased a carload of slabs he unloaded them into his wagons and hauled them to his cake house all the while standing the slabs on edge.

In order to feed the cattle, ranch employees reloaded their wagons, making sure they had axes and hatchets along to break up the slabs into smaller pieces to distribute the feed more evenly among the cows.

McMurtry would laugh and tell how on the feed grounds, each cow would pick up the biggest chunk of feed she could carry in her mouth, run off to the plum bushes and gnaw around the edges maybe all day until the piece was finally devoured, just like a coyote with a bone.

He built a somewhat centrally located cake house about three miles south of today's ghost town of Rockledge, which had a sidetrack for the Rock Island Railroad.

The cake house had a wooden floor raised up to wagon-bed height for easy loading and was used into the late 1940s. The wagon tracks leading away from the early day cake house to the outlying feed grounds of the ranch can still be seen today.

When winter feeding cattle was proven to be profitable the demand for cottonseed cake skyrocketed. The feed evolved from slabs to cubes and ground into meal form was transported in jute sacks holding 100 pounds and testing some 50 percent protein in content.

At first all feed was hauled in wagons. Next came light trucks and finally, as roads improved, tractor-trailers were used to transport tons of cubes to the ranches.

Every old-time cowboy I ever knew could tell stories by the hour about hearing the air horns of semi-trucks loaded with cake arriving just at dark or 2:30 in the morning to be unloaded into the cake house. Unloading 300 sacks of cake, stacking them up high in small cake houses was no small feat, no matter how strong you were.

Every cowboy's wife could recall gathering and counting gunny sacks to sell to the sack man who came about twice a year to buy sacks. Ranchers like my father always gave the ranch women the sack money. For most, it was the only bonus they ever received for their hard work.



Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" May 25, 2010 Column


Related Topics:
Ranching | Texas Animals | Texas Panhandle

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