Ranching & Cowboys

From Our Spring 2017 Edition
Article by: Bob Silva Author, photographer, public speaker & western writer.

One shall make no mistake, but the 1800s was one generation for ranching where cowboys and horses were nearly synonymous. The cowboy depended on his horse, as the horse depended on the cowboy. Now this all started to change as the industrial age came into being during the early 1900s. The car came into everyday life, as did the farm tractors. Next motorized bikes, motorcycles, and 4 wheelers entered the market. Before long horses stood in stalls or spent their days in a field of hay.

Many cowboys started saddling up on 2-wheel cycles or 4 wheelers as they performed daily ranching chores. The tough, hardy cowboys of the 1800s were in a transition that never again would see the long days, weeks, or months of working cattle or cattle trailing. The days of sleeping under the stars on large ranch land were nearly gone. The days of the cowboy strapping on his six shooter during the Wild West days of the 1800s were gone, instead the cowboys of the 20th and 21st century were strapping on their cell phones. Yes, the days of the Texas trailing cowboys and the cowboys of the west that worked the very large cattle ranches has slowly faded away. What didn’t fade away was the operations and management of the cattle ranches, large or small.

Successful cattlemen remained savvy of ranching operations, as ranching was their livelihood. Cattlemen looked at the most important factors of cattle ranching, and it came right down to mother earth (environment). Cattle require good grazing and this comes right down to water, rain, and snow. Without moisture, there is no vegetation, such as gramma grass, or any other type of hay for the livestock. Even the very hardy Texas longhorns would have problems surviving in drought conditions.

Successful cattlemen have to look beyond tomorrow (years ahead) and balance out their ranch operations. The ranchers looked ahead to available grazing acreage on their ranch during good moisture years, and in bad drought years. Some ranchers were fortunate enough to have a river or creek bottom where cattle could be moved during a dry year, or had the luxury to graze their cattle at higher elevations (mountains & high mesas)? During a drought year the ranchers never knew if his wind mills would pump water, or if the cattle ponds would go dry? Did the ranchers have irrigated acreage with hay that would provide forage and silage for his cattle? So much planning and questions to be answered by the ranch owners; for their family’s livelihood and very existence depended on it.

Ranching is a risky business and only the real savvy cattlemen have survived through the worst of the years (drought, diseases and the unexpected). The unknowns are what is even more devastating. A very cold freezing snow storm can take the toll on a cattle herd, or a field of loco weed with its poisonous toxin will kill livestock. Cattle are living organisms and are subject to infections and diseases. Cattle must be monitored constantly and vaccinated on a regular basis.

Ranch owners and cowboys must wear a veterinarian hat, as signs of bloating in cattle that occurs most often in spring and fall can be deadly to livestock. Being able to identify a gassy or a frothy bloat will determine what action is to be taken to correct the problem. A health program with proper nutrition will reward the ranch owner when the cattle are taken to market, but a vaccination program is good cattle management. Viral respiratory vaccine and deworming is all part of the cattle business and consulting with the area veterinarian is smart money. Illnesses within cattle can be contagious, for example foot and mouth. A good ranch hand or cowboy is hard to beat when his pride is in his livestock.

Cattle branding and tagging is another fine yearly event that takes place at the cattleman’s ranch, as identifying ones herd is absolutely necessary. Cattle rustling lives on, as in 2011 13,000 head of cattle were reported missing in Texas. The loss of cattle goes into the millions of dollars; yes, branding cattle is necessary. A cattle brand is a language and artistic art that can be seen in the Centennial Brand Book of Colorado Cattlemen or in the Colorado Brand Book archives. Cattlemen, cowboys and ranch hands are a pride to our country. They supply what we eat when it comes to selecting our beef. Fine juicy steaks to ground beef, it all starts with that young calf in the spring that grows into a healthy steer that goes to market.

Tip your hat to that cowboy – his dusty boots and his western hat is a show of pride and hard work. The following is a list of a few cattle ranches in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

Prairie Cattle Company (CO, NM, TX) 1800s;

Boyd Ranch, Trinchera, CO

TO Cross Ranch, Raton, NM

T Cross Ranch, Limon, CO

3 Rocker Ranch, Kim, CO

Dougherty Ranch, Folsom, NM

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