On the Edge of Common Sense

by Baxter Black

On the Edge of Common Sense

Don’t Forget the Cowboy and the Horse

Sometimes, when we go to our livestock meetings and see all the technology we forget about the cowboy and the horse.

The booths and presentations show us injecting or collecting samples to determine breed traits, DNA, source verification, average daily gain, or to treat for parasites, disease, or to stimulate growth. It all looks so orderly as the healthy steer standing in the hydraulic chute smiles at the camera while the hired hand in a clean shirt demonstrates a procedure with music playing in the background. I will remind modern agriculture practitioners there are still places where a cowboy and a horse are an essential part of management.  For example, feeder cattle on wheat grass or ranches where they still calve ‘outside’ or summer mountain pastures. These are examples where it is more expedient to treat the critter where you find it, rather than try and drive or haul them to a squeeze chute or trap two miles away.

If you have the luxury of a two-man crew, the method is obvious; head and heel them. But for the lone rider, his skills must be at a higher level. The beast; a cow with a wire around her foot or a steer with pink eye must be 1) caught 2) restrained 3) treated 4) released.

Depending on 1) the terrain, 2) the disposition of critter, and 3) its size, the job can be 1) hard or 2) harder! In real life, catching can mean the head, the horns, the heels, one hock, or the head and front leg together. Restraining the animal usually means putting them on the ground.  Since this lecture could take ten more pages, illustrated, I will discuss the case of a 300 lb bull calf that needs doctored or branded and cut. Regardless of the appendage you’ve roped, you can drag him slowly till he eventually lies down.

The next step is critical: Your horse must keep the rope tight while you dismount, ease to the calf, and tie at least 3 feet together with your piggin’ string. As you’re pulling back, keeping the rope tight, you throw a couple dallies around the saddle horn and top it with a half-hitch (or hooey). This holds the knot as long as the rope stays tight to the calf. Then you toss the extra coils away from the action.  Depending on how the calf is behaving, you wrap a loop of your rein around the tight rope and tie it back to the hanging rein. This keeps your horse’s head pointed at the calf.

Pounce on the calf. Assure yourself the correct side is up if you’re branding, then free him from the rope and horse. Now put the slip knot of your piggin’ string over the calf’s down-side front leg. Slide your body back far enough to push both his hind legs forward with your thigh. Then arrange his two hind feet to cross over the attached front leg. Make three wraps around the three feet and pull them together tight!  Then one more wrap and a hooey around the front leg and he is ready to be treated.

This description of our skilled cowboy making the perfect catch and tie-down holds true, unless, of course, your horse lets slack out of your line when he shouldn’t, gets tangled in the coils, the dally slips, you loop the piggin’ string over your wrist, the calf gets loose and runs under the horse’s belly who then deserts you three miles from the pickup and loses your rope somewhere along the way.

But don’t worry . . . that never happens . . .