old cowmen and cowboys have worked in hundreds of corrals during their lifetimes.
Some pens were built with new welded pipe, galvanized panels and were painted.
Others were built of used railroad ties and landing matts, surplus from World
War II. Others were hog wire, barbed wire or salvaged telephone poles or raw
cedar stays cut with an axe and set in stockade design.
No matter the
construction design or materials used, the thing remembered was, did the livestock
work easily or was the work difficult? Whichever the answer, why? What was responsible
for the difficulties or the ease of the work?
Recently, while returning
from a trip to New Mexico, we stopped to take photos of one of the few remaining
original railroad stockyards, built beside the tracks in Roy, N.M. The railroads
were among the first to design good working livestock facilities. Evidently, they
consulted a smart old rancher with experience before beginning construction. Eventually,
the design was built all across the West wherever large amounts of livestock were
being gathered and loaded on cars.
The pens were built of stout, creosoted
posts and lumber, tall enough to prevent jumping over the top. Wide, stout gates
were touted throughout the facility supported by long adjustable metal rods to
keep the gates swinging free. Gate latches were designed with gravity control
which prevented the gates from opening without human help. Long wings opening
to the surrounding prairie made penning herds easy.
Since most herds of
any era were purchased with the option to cull and sort various weights, sexes
and quality, cutting alleys were designed into the center of any group of associated
pens. The theory was to have the option of moving any pen of cattle
to any other pen without having to go through a pen. In fact, several herds belonging
to different owners could be handled at once. The railroads
were the first to install weigh scales to accurately determine livestock weights.
“dream pen design,” based on a set of pens near Goodnight
would be designed like this: Build barns and windbreaks on a hill facing the south
for weather protection and to prevent cattle
from looking north to open range. Round up cattle
from the south driving north uphill into a large water lot where the cattle
water and salt every day. After penning into the water lot, shut the gate to prevent
escape and push the herd into the main corrals, still going uphill to the north.
Once inside the main corrals, move cattle
to the north side against the barns and windbreaks. Then, begin sorting, working
through chutes, alleys, etc., back to the south where they came from and, of course,
downhill. Since they can’t see to the north, and they want to escape to the south,
downhill where they originally came from, the flow of cattle
will be natural and easy to manage.
Of course, not every ranch terrain
offers this ideal location. But I can promise, from experience, that each of these
suggestions will enhance the ease of how your pens work.
Trew - November
22, 2011 column
Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164,
by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For books see delberttrew.com. His column appears weekly.
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