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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Technology replacing old ranching ways

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Many changes have occurred in the ranching business over the years. Some are good, a few are sad and occasionally one is somewhat ironic or funny.

For example, during the "Big Ranch" days of open range, cowboys from all area ranches joined together in roundups for branding the new crop of calves or selling the mature steers and cull cows. Strays were separated at this time and returned to the proper owner's range.

The arrival of barbed-wire fences eliminated most stray problems, so the focus became helping the neighbors brand their increase each year. This was known as "neighboring" or simply exchanging a day's work with your nearest neighbors.

The arrival of railroads, graded county roads and tractor-trailers eliminated the long drives of herds and was replaced by helping each neighbor weigh and load his sale stock onto trucks for delivery. The trucks of the time were single deck and 28 to 30 feet in length. It took a lot of driveway to park the string of trucks needed to transport the stock to market. Today, a "big pot" truck is long with two or more decks and holds a lot of cattle. Often only one or two pots can haul the entire herd to market.

In the old days, neighbors arose at 2 a.m., saddled their mounts and trotted many miles across country in the dark to help the rancher who was shipping cattle. Afterwards, they trotted the long distance back home. It often made for a long day. Today it takes a couple of acres to park the big $40,000 pickups and $20,000 trailers used by the helpers to haul a single horse to the roundup.

My mother made a great "to-do" over fixing a hot breakfast and serving gallons of black coffee to the men before daylight. Everyone caught up on the latest gossip, the sick people and the latest news from around the community. Lunch or dinner required the same effort whether served at the table or out on the range.

Today, breakfast is seldom served and lunch is often eaten at the nearest cafe in town. Much of the old camaraderie of the range is lost in the shuffle as well as loyalty to the brand once so prized by the ranching industry. On a regular basis, the work is interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone, and instead of a stub pencil scribbling in a worn tally-book, some ranches use laptops to record the numbers and details of livestock.

Subjects discussed at the roundups have also changed. It used to be horses, the next country dance or a friend who had married while the bosses discussed prices and cost of operations. Today, the subjects are more likely to be football, PRCA standings, the next team-roping or the attributes of the newest diesel turbo-charged pickup.

I am not a pessimist nor do I wish hard times on anyone but I have a suspicion that sometime in the future, not too far away, ranchers and cowboys will have to return to some of the old ways in order to survive and stay in business.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" July 10, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
See Texas Ranching

 
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