I HAVE A PHILOSOPHY given to me bynan old cowboy who said, “Cowboys should never farm and farmers should never handle cows.” I believe him not just because I have always felt that the only good tractor is one with somebody else driving it, but because I hadn’t and haven’t yet met the person who is more than half proficient at both. I’ve seen some
really good cowboys farm and I’ve seen some really good farmers run cows, but I’ve never seen one do the other well. I have met people who think they are good at both,
but those guys are usually not really good at either one.
I’ll pick on the cowboys first. We are so bad at farming that a friend of mine followed his banker’s advice and started farming to make more money. Not only did he wind up losing his ranch because of farming losses, he underwent the humiliation of having farmers drive their sons out to show them how not to do things.
A good farmer always has a grease gun handy and knows how to use it. On the other hand, a cowboy always has a hard time finding one and then can hardly remember which end to use, let alone find all of the places he’s supposed to grease. Farmers also have a
knack of identifying sounds of worn parts in their machines. They will hear a noise and send a mechanic or their wife to town to pick up the necessary part. The gizmo will be replaced before it can break.
On the other hand, if a cowboy even notices the same sound, he won’t have a clue as to what it is until it breaks into many pieces. Occasionally the “it” consists of several different parts. These are the times the people in the parts store dread. No matter what anybody says, parts ain’t parts, and a box containing several different parts which are in several different pieces is a parts man’s nightmare. Getting parts may also involve answering questions as you do when you fill out a questionnaire for a new doctor, only this one’s mostly numbers: year, model, serial, kind of machine (I dunno, it was spitting out square bales), brand of machine (I dunno that either, but it’s a green one).
Will Rogers used to say that everyone is a genius, only in different areas. I guess that must be true about being stupid, too. Working cattle is sort of like an intelligence contest based on the level of the cow. If you are smarter than the cow, you win and she does
what you want. The easier she does what you want, the smarter you are.
Now, to put it politely, handling cattle is not the area in which farmers are known for their genius. In fact, their lack of bovine brain has become even more apparent since the advent of driver’s-side airbags in pickup trucks. Rather than ride a horse out to check
their cows, a lot of farmers will drive through their cattle in a pickup. If the cows are fine, then the farmer drives straight back to his tractor. If not, he will use the truck as a cutting horse. Of course, the truck doesn’t have quite the cow savvy of a good horse, but no cow can outrun a good truck. If the cow runs too far, you can bump her with the truck to get her to turn. This does set off the airbag, which in turn shuts off the engine. Then the farmer has to tow the truck to town and spend seven or eight hundred dollars to install a new airbag. A veterinarian I once knew in a farmer-dominated state said he knew one farmer who actually had to replace three airbags in one month from working cows with
The most dangerous thing in the world is a farmer roping at a branding. Actually, there is something worse, a whole bunch of farmers roping at the same time. I was about to go to a branding at a neighbor’s place in an area where nearly everyone was more farmer than cattleman. One of the two actual cowboys I met while in that state warned me to be careful because these guys are dangerous. He was right; they really farmer down when they cowboy up.
When a good cowboy or buckaroo goes into the branding pen, he does so at a walk. When he has a shot at a calf, he won’t spin his rope more than once or twice before throwing it. He will rope both of the calf’s back feet and drag it out at a walk By roping the calves in this manner, he reduces the risk of injury to the calf, minimizes stress on the group of calves, and makes it easy on the ground crew as the calf is already on the ground and simply needs to be rolled onto the proper side for branding with no wrestling required.
None of that go-easy stuff for the farmers, though. If they’re western enough to rope em’, they’re man enough to do it eastern. At the first one of these brandings I
went to, I was flanking calves with a high-school kid when there came a farmer out of the pen at a trot. He had his calf roped high by one leg, and the calf was passing him up. I hollered at the kid to watch out, but I was a little slow getting out of the way myself . With a 200-pound calf on one end of the rope, a 1,000-pound horse on the other end, and my neck in the middle, I considered myself lucky to get away, even if it did look
like I had been hung.
In ranching country that stunt would have ended with the roper’s rope being cut in half and the roper banished to working on the ground, but not here. In fact, people were going into the pen at a trot and dragging calves out at a lope. There were more wrecks at either of the two brandings I went to in that state than in all of the other brandings I have been to in my life. Several sets of flankers were run over. I was nearly dumped when I roped my first calf and was dragging it out along the fence at a walk. My horse started trying to buck, and I noticed a calf between me and the fence with a rope high around one leg. I traced the rope to its end, which was around another roper’s saddlehorn. He was passing me up at a trot, trying to drag the calf from underneath me. And I wondered why my horse was acting up…
Several people were bucked off, but the best one was the guy who roped a calf high on one leg and got tangled up in his rope. The calf jerked him off his horse and dragged him out of the pen, past the branding fire. Adding injury to insult, his horse panicked and ran
over him while racing the calf the heck out of there.
The moral of this story is that cowboys shouldn’t farm and farmers should never be allowed to have cows.
This story is an excerpt from my book
Cowboy Romance (of horsesweat & hornflies) which is available on Amazon