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.
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
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.
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.
25, 2010 Column © Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164,
by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.