comparison between modern-day ranching practices and equipment with
that of yesterday shows a marked difference. Today we see modern vehicles
of all sizes, carrying all sizes of loads at almost any speed desired
and done in great comfort, almost a miracle when compared to wagons.
Cow trails, wagon ruts and rough surfaces have been replaced by graded
dirt roads, caliche surfaces, farm-to-market and state highway pavements.
Cellphones, pagers and emails have replaced the old crank telephones
sending out their messages along the top
wire of barbed wire fences. The U.S. Mail is delivered six days
a week right to your mailbox.
Corrals, scales, loading chutes and double-deck trucks have replaced
the old trail drives across country to the nearest railroad loading
pens. Cattle trading involving “spit and whittle” sessions where all
sharpened their stub pencils and “figured” on the wooden saddle house
door have been replaced by sale rings, video auctions and protection
on the future’s market.
But once upon a time, not so long ago, all these things were nonexistent.
Yet we had approximately the same amount of livestock running on the
same acreage, and we thought we were doing just fine. How did we do
For one thing, we had more old cowmen in those days.
A real cowman tends to his livestock first before he does anything
Many who tend livestock today, do everything else first then tend
their livestock last almost as an afterthought.
Probably the greatest difference in ranching of yesterday and today
lies in the winter feeding practices.
Today, huge trucks deliver formulated feed to ranch-located overhead
feed storage bins, to be dumped into automatic feed dispensers mounted
Merely call the livestock together, drive slowly pushing the button
and disperse the proper amount of feed.
The first winter feed introduced in the past was cottonseed leavings,
pressed into huge chunks that had to be broken up with an axe or hammer
before feeding. Next came cattle cubes, in which the cottonseed by-products
were compressed into bite-sized cubes then placed into 100-pound gunny
sacks for transporting to cake houses, located on the ranches.
For a short period of time on many large ranches, wagon or truck loads
of cubes were hauled to small remote cake houses located on the vast
On feed days, a cowboy mounted his horse, rode to these remote cake
houses calling the livestock to follow then scattering his feed from
Another period featured cotton seed meal, the same product ground
into a heavy powder and delivered in sacks to the ranches.
Usually half-barrels or other small wooden troughs were used to mix
meal and bulk loose salt together in a formula to limit intake of
the food to prevent overeating.
Where some operators just kept the barrels supplied, the true cowman
studied his grass, noting where areas were not being grazed then moved
a meal and salt barrel to the ungrazed area thus providing better
utilization of his land.
It required study, time and work, but it no doubt paid off in the
amount of profit made and the protection of the grasslands.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" May
23, 2011 column
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