Introduction to Cow Camp

I have just come from the camp site where we are holding this week’s Cow Camp – a program where would be cowboys can learn some of the art of handling cattle. We spent a couple of hours erecting a big 7×10 ft. tent, where our cowboys and cowgirls can take shelter in case it rains, and it occurred to me that the rest of you may enjoy reading the “Introduction to Cow Camp” which they receive on check in.

Here it is, and I hope it gives you an idea of what goes on during these four action packed days dedicated to “the life of a cowboy”!

Welcome to our popular program, Cow Camp.

The purpose of Cow Camp is to acquaint you with the life style of the cowboy, and to introduce you to the ways of cattle, their way of life, their thinking, and their influence on humans. Here you will learn how to handle cows, how to drive them, how to direct them through a gate, through an opening, into a pasture – in short, make them a useful domestic animal.

Most people don’t realize that cattle are quite intelligent, and very capable of taking care of themselves in their natural state. Cows are very good mothers, very defensive of their young, but also quite socialized in that cows take care of each other’s calves, while the mothers go to water or to graze; quite often one comes across a cow who is baby sitting perhaps 10-12 calves, taking care of them while their mothers are gone – and probably planning that tomorrow, she will go off, and leave her baby to another cow’s care.

There are many misconceptions about cattle and ranching and one of them concerns the necessary act of branding. Branding cattle on the open range is mandatory in order to prove ownership and to prevent costly and unpleasant disputes, and most city people consider it barbaric and painful. Actually, it’s neither. Cattle have a hide over the skin and the hide is relatively nerveless, so that branding is actually painless. We know this by the fact that when branding a cow who has been through a cattle chute before, and who is familiar with people and with being handled, she does not respond to the application of the branding iron at all. At the same time, while most calves do struggle when being branded, they are struggling against being held down, which is a frightening and unfamiliar sensation. Branding a pet calf that has been raised on the bottle and has been handled by people is quite a different experience, as it lays there quietly through the whole procedure, trusting the people who are handling it, and it does not flinch nor cry out at the application of the branding iron.

Cattle are a herd animal, and, as such, they know that their survival and safety depends on being in the middle of the herd. Therefore, they are not too pleased to be “cut out” of a herd, such as happens during team penning, for example, or during running cows through a chute. They are also rather near sighted, and quite often seem to mill around an open gate right in front of them, apparently without seeing it. The fact is, they do not see it – their eyes are geared more to seeing a moving object rather than a stationary one, and an open gate is often quite invisible. The more they are pushed at it, the more rattled they become, and the more likely they are to keep missing it. Therefore, when herding cattle to an open gate or towards a chute opening, the trick is to get them near it, and then ease off, take the pressure off , and let them find the opening – then they will walk through it calmly and willingly.

Cattle also see behind them quite well. When herding them, for example, to the left, it is often quite sufficient to ease up from behind on the right side, and they will turn left. Often a quite small movement on the part of the rider will result in the desired change of direction. It is not necessary to crowd them, nor is it a good idea to come rushing up – that’s asking for a stampede. The slower and quieter you work cows, the better the result – not only will you achieve your goal, but you will also achieve it without stressing the animals and without running precious weight off them – and if you run the pounds off cows, you may be sure you will never be asked to help at that particular ranch again!

So – the best way to cowboy is to ride your horse quietly, ease up on the cows, and handle them gently with a minimum of noise and fuss, and you will achieve far more than by the often mistakenly admired “hot dog cowboy” way of running your horse and stampeding the cows.

We hope that by taking part in this Cow Camp you will realize what it takes on the part of the rancher to get that steak to your table, and also that you will gain respect not only for the rancher and the cowboy and their way of life, but also for the cattle themselves, their life style in the wild, their usefulness to us, and their dependence on us.

Thanks again for coming!

The next Cow Camp dates for this year are March 22nd and April 5th. Call if you are interested in knowing more!

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