Check out our 2024 Corporate Sustainability Report!

Gathering Livestock Safely & Efficiently

21 Mar 2024

By: Laura Brenner

Throughout much of the country, livestock are gathered nearly the same way today as they were three generations ago—by knowledgeable cowboys. But labor shortages and market diversification are forcing some ranches in the south-central United States to reevaluate the landscape of herd gathering.

A multi-week cattle drive might have made good television in the 1990s, but it’s no longer a practical timeframe when ranches have diversified into several markets and are short on time and resources. Ranchers need to gather and move herds of cattle faster and with fewer people, and they’re finding ways to do it safely with emerging tools and innovative methods.

Gathering Cattle With Cowboys

Cowboys, and cowgirls, are the hallmark of agricultural work in the western and south-central United States. On many ranches, the only replacement for cowboys with good cow sense, a sense of direction and patience, is a good cow dog.

“We don’t use dogs as much as we could, but we use cow dogs on rough terrain and in heavily wooded areas. A good working cow dog can replace two cowboys,” said Jordan Cook of Lockhart Cattle Company in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He’s fond of Hangin Tree Cowdogs, but has successfully worked with Border Collies and Black Mouth Cur dogs.

When on horseback, Cook thinks the most essential tool his ranch employs to move cattle is planning and patience. “Plan ahead, and don’t fight the weather,” Cook said are the best ways to reduce stress on livestock and cowboys. “Have a plan for where to start and how to push them. And have patience; things don’t always go the way you plan.”

Moving Livestock by Helicopter

The availability of cowboys and cowdogs thins out on ranches further south. At least, that’s how Warren Cude of Fort Stockton, Texas, feels. “It’s a lot easier to find pen help rather than trying to get cowboys on horses to move cattle across 52 sections,” said Warren.

Warren and his son Tanner are third and fourth-generation ranchers. They also own and operate TransPecos Aviation, LLC, a helicopter company that provides livestock work, predation work, and, more recently, aerial brush control.

Aviation isn’t new technology, even for agricultural use. In 1921, the Ohio Department of Agriculture chartered the first plane and pilot to spread an aerial pesticide application. But Warren’s seen a higher demand for helicopter services in the past decade when it’s been tough to gather enough hands to help move cattle across ranches.

He suspects competing oil and gas jobs draw folks away from ranching. “Ranching isn’t a job you’re going to get rich at. You're doing it because of the lifestyle. That’s changing as everything is changing,” said Warren.

The Cudes manage a 3,000-head sheep ranch and run 400-head of cattle on the same land. As the fourth generation on the ranch, Tanner sought to diversify the business and fill a growing need in the region. Having a pilot who understands livestock is essential, Warren believes. “A lot of customers like that when [Tanner’s] not flying, he’s ranching. He works livestock in the air the same way he does by horse,” said Warren.

Often, gathering cattle by helicopter is complemented with on-the-ground efforts. Once the aircraft gathers the cattle into a pen, cowboys can begin doctoring, branding, or sorting the herd. For rancher Gene Dubas, that can become the most dangerous phase of gathering cattle.

Condensing Cattle From Pens to Trailers

Recent research suggests that cattle-related injuries are a significant cause of severe morbidity and mortality on farms and ranches. Often, these injuries are under-reported. Farmers and ranchers put themselves in danger with livestock when they’re condensing them down from a pasture or pen into a trailer or walkway.

It’s that danger and a need for efficiency that led Dubas to look for a product that allows one person to easily set up a mobile corral that pushes cattle from the outside. He and his son ranch in Fullerton, Nebraska, where they often winter-graze cattle on cornstalks.

“I was a customer before I started as a sales rep,” said Gene of his job at Moly Manufacturing. “As a salesperson and a rancher, I can’t say enough about how we have to minimize the risk with animals for the livestock and for the rancher.”

Dubas and his son rely on the AP Corral and the TurrretGate to condense and move cattle safely. Gene’s son also appreciates the efficiency of the products—being able to load the AP Corral panels on trailer, transport, and set up in the field by himself.

“This thing has moving walls. It’s designed to catch cattle, then—from the outside—push in to condense the cattle without having to get in the corral with them,” said Dubas, who’s used Moly products in his farm since 1993.

Regardless of the gathering method—with cowboys, helicopters or mobile corrals—the principles are the same today as they were 100 years ago. Gathering herds safely and efficiently always begins with a good plan, cow-sense and patience.

Time marches on for all professions—including ranchers and the cowboys they rely on to move and work cattle. Though many ranches continue to approach livestock gathering the way they always have—with knowledgeable cowboys and cowgirls on horses—some places of the country are exploring alternatives.

Learn more:

The All Purpose Corral

The TurretGate

Article written by Laura Brenner


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.