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
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
See Texas Ranching