Friday, May 16, 2014

Cattle, Then and Now


Today, I'm going to talk a bit about handling cattle, from my own experience. The other day, My Cowboy bought a bull, and the very next day while he (the Cowboy) was gone, the new bull got out. Thankfully, our older son was at home and came over and helped me pen the bull up. 

We got him in the equipment bay (an area about 2 acres), but that area joined a pasture that had two other big bulls in it. Since this bull was new, and they were all trying to mark their territory, I didn't want to leave him there because all three were already bellowing and pawing at the ground, and I was afraid they'd tear the barbed wire fence down. And there were girls in the other pen. Even a tame bull doesn't pay a bit of mind to a 4-wheeler or a fence if there are pretty girls in the vicinity. He's liable to walk right on through the fence as if it wasn't there. It wasn't easy, but we finally got him in a smaller fenced in area, then in an even smaller heavy-duty catch pen built out of lumber.

On the other hand, if herd bulls have already developed a pecking order, then they're fairly tame. The other day, I helped My Cowboy get up and separate cows to take to the stockyard. And the 2000 lb bull we wanted to sell just walked into the pen along with the rest of the cows. Then he calmly walked down the chute and stepped onto the cattle trailer.

Herd bulls are usually raised to be exactly that: herd bulls. They're fed tons of feed by their owners. We've had some that would follow a bucket of feed onto a cattle trailer right out of the pasture. Remember, these guys weigh 2000+ lbs!!! :) Herd bulls aren't mean, they aren't going to charge at you, and they don't buck and carry on like bulls in a rodeo. If they do, you get rid of them right quick. Again, this is a general statement and I would never advise anyone to get in a pen or pasture with a bull they don't know, but I wouldn't hesitate to walk around in our pastures with our cows and bulls. On the flip side, I would hesitate (or at least watch carefully) a bull and some of our cows in a smaller space, like a pen.

So, you have maybe three scenarios when trying to get up cows and/or bulls:

1) Ranchers who raise bulls to sell feed them a lot. They are so tame that when somebody comes to look at the bulls, the rancher just calls them and they coming running into the pen, happy as they can be to get feed. When we bought the new bull the other day, there were about eight bulls in a very sturdy, reinforced pen, and My Cowboy and the other rancher were walking all around them. There were no girls anywhere within miles or those bulls would have fought like mad with each other and torn the pen down. Without the girls, they were as peaceable as can be. Chasing those bulls with 4-wheeler would pretty much be futile if they got it in their head to not cooperate. You'd either kill yourself, the bulls, or they'd break through the fence and be gone for good.

2) When attempting to pen a herd of cattle (which would include the bulls...60 cows might have 1-2 bulls with them), you first entice them to come into a large pen (a half-acre or so) with feed. A lot of them will come running. As those are heading toward the pen, you get behind the rest with horses, (a lot of this is done with 4-wheelers these days) and "sweep" the rest toward the pen. If all goes well, all of them will go in the pen and you hope you're home free. If not, then you move all the penned cattle to a smaller pen, and have another go at it, chasing the wild ones with the 4-wheelers and trucks. Again, if you're lucky, you'll eventually get those into the pen.

3) Third scenario when trying to get up bulls is like the one my son and I face. Getting a bull (or some cows) into a pen by himself is tricky because they are much more nervous alone. Add in the other bulls and cows in on the other side of a flimsy fence and it's a recipe for disaster. We didn't want to give hard chase to the bull, because we didn't want him to plow through the wire fence, but the 4-wheeler did keep him and the other bulls separated long enough for us to "lightly chase" him around and around the big square pen until he went through the gate we wanted him to, which was a catch-pen with boards about 6' high all around.

Bulls and cows on the open range many years ago would have been handled a bit differently in that they weren't used to being around people and horses except maybe a couple of times a year during roundup.

Since the purpose of driving a herd to the railhead was for slaughter, they would have been mostly young cattle around 1-2 years old, heifers and steers. The herd bulls and herd stayed on the ranch to produce another crop of calves for the next year. 

Every once in a while, there would be a calf born on the way, but that would have just slowed the trail drive down. Options at that point (depending on the nature of the trail-drive boss and the length of the trip) would have been to give the calf to the cook for veal (sorry, but it's true). If the herd was moving really slow for some reason, they might let the calf stay on his mother for a few days, but I can't see them pushing a new-born calf for weeks and weeks on the trail. Generally, there would have been very few (if any) small calves in a trail herd.
Sometimes the lead animal would be a docile steer that had made the trip more than once. And he might even had a bell on him. The other type of herd that would be on the move was if a rancher was moving his entire operation to a new location. In that case, there would be cattle of all ages, but still not a lot of bulls, only how ever many bulls they needed in relation to the number of cows they had.

Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Claiming Mariah is her second novel. Look for The Evergreen Bride, October, 2014.


  1. Hi Pam, I loved your post! Bulls and cows are interesting animals. We had two grown bulls that just could not stand to be in the same vicinity of each other. There was a meeting of the minds every time they got close to each other. Head butting, pawing the ground, snorting...the works! Needless to say, one bull was sold!

    1. Melanie, we've had a few of those as well. Usually My Cowboy keeps them separated if they fight too much. I have video of the bull fight where the two locked heads (photo above). We were taking pictures of baby calves and cows one day and the bulls were feeling frisky. I haven't posted it because I want to set it to music. Just haven't figured out how yet. :)

  2. Coming in late, Pam, but I had to tell you how much I enjoyed your post! Thank you for sharing

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Margaret. Watch where you step! lol

  3. Really enjoyed reading Claiming Mariah! Interesting post on bulls! I think I'll just keep reading books, swimming and talking walks and oh yes, line dancing for my high adventures! sharon, wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. lol - Sharon, I agree. I much prefer reading about trail drives and working cattle than actually doing it! :)