Movin’ Cattle

How do you move a herd of cattle from one place to another?

This is a cattle drive near our house that we passed on the way to work one morning. This drive lasted several days.

When I lived in Nevada, most of my neighbors did it the old fashioned way–they had a cattle drive. Sometimes the cows were driven many miles. It wasn’t unusual for it to take two or three days to move the cattle from the home ranch to their summer pasture. At the the end of the grazing season, the cattle would then be driven back to the home ranch.

Cattle tend to stick together, which is a blessing, but it seems there’s always a few who want to go somewhere other than where they’re supposed to. This is why there are riding positions during a cattle drive. The point rider rides near the front, choosing the

direction the head will go. Swing or flank riders ride beside the cattle on both sides, the swing rider toward the front of the herd and the flank riders toward the read. The very worst position to ride is drag–at the the rear of the herd. The drag riders are often choked  with dust, and may wear bandannas over their nose and mouths.

Dogs are often essential partners during a drive, keeping cows together and making sure that there are no laggers.

There are other ways to move cattle. On our ranch, where we never move the cattle off the property, we open gates and chase them where they need to go. There’s always a lead cow. In our case it’s an older cow named 5X. She’s the one who charges to the front and tells the rest of the girls where to go. If we can get 5X pointed in the direction we want her to take everyone, all is well.

Another way to move cattle is to lure them along. We got stopped on our way to town the other day by a neighbor driving a tractor with a round hay bale on the back, and around 400 cows following him. The front cows were nibbling on the bale and the ones in the rear were following along because 

that’s what herds do–they stick together. There were a couple of guys on 4-wheelers riding drag. It was fun to watch.

Of course there’s always the option of loading the cattle into a truck and driving them to their pasture. That’s the fastest way to go a distance, but it’s also expensive, which is why so many people stick with the tried and true and drive their cattle the old fashioned way.

 

Jeannie Watt
Jeannie Watt raises cattle in Montana and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.

26 Comments

  1. the old fashion way may not be the best way but it has worked for hundreds of years.

  2. How interesting. We have mostly dairy farms around here, so I don’t think that’s something done here. There is a bison ranch a little north of me, too. Sheep, some pork, emu, and a few other small farms, plus those with orchards or vegetables. Sunflowers have become a big draw,too.

    1. You live in a nicely diverse farming area, Denise. It must be fun to see all those different kinds of operations–especially the emu.

  3. It sure does work. Great post.

  4. This was an interesting post. I love seeing the picture of the cattle following the tractor. I don’t know if they change pastures here as I don’t know any ranchers.

    1. Thanks, Janine. They may not change pastures if they feed hay year round instead of gazing part of the year.

  5. The old fashion way seems to be the way to go and that is true for a lot of things.

  6. we too used to move a herd about a mile from one pasture to another on the road in front of our house – and yes the lead cow is a must – we currently have a bottle baby cow that still comes when you call her name and she is a vital source when trying to round them up to wean the calves!! Enjoyed the post!

    1. How cute about the bottle baby, Teresa! She sounds like a pet.

  7. Welcome. Yes I used to find this a fascinating time. A fellow neighbor had a huge ranch and many cattle. Twice a year he would move them from one pasture back to closer to home. One year he asked my mom if I could be allowed to be a part of the moving. My position would be in the rear with another man. Mom said yes, for she trusted this man and his men. Woohoo wow what an experience of a life time. I got to help out for several years. I grew up on a farm but we didnt have cattle drives. That is one memory I will never forget.

    1. That is so cool, Lori, and yes, what a great memory! I’m glad you had that experience, because very few do.

  8. Wow, this is so very interesting, that is a lot of hard work. I have never seen that done. Thank you so much for sharing this information. God Bless all the Ranchers for all their hard work.

    1. I agree, Alicia. God bless those ranchers!

  9. Avatar

    My husband and I had a dairy operation for over 30 years and we certainly didn’t have hundreds of cows but we often had to move 30-40 head from one field to another and you are right, if you can get one cow headed in the right direction, you can usually convince to others to go. I loved reading your post!

  10. Thank you, Connie. That one cow is so important! Dairies are so much work–hats off to you and your husband!

  11. I grew up on a dairy farm and we used to move the cows, between 25 and 30 head, from the barn to the pasture every morning and then back again at night. It was about a quarter of a mile on the road and it was a job for us kids to bring them home around 5pm on our bikes or on foot. As our road became busier with more and more people moving in we were forced to fence off a lane on our property instead of using the road. The best part about that was the cows came home by themselves most days which was great when you were a teenager and really didn’t want to have to go after the cows.

    There is a family in Kittitas Ccounty that trails their cattle up the Yakima River Canyon road every year. It has become an event the local news covers each fall.

    1. Could dairy farms survive without family, lol? I grew up close to two and like in your family, the kids were responsible for so much. Thanks so much for sharing. I love the part about being a teen and not wanting to deal with the cattle. 🙂

  12. I grew up on a dairy farm and that is true – both that they certainly do follow each other and that there is always a rebel or two who do their own thing. It was fun!

    1. I love discovering how many of you have dairy farm roots. So interesting. And cows are definitely cows when it comes to trying to get them somewhere. Thanks, Susan.

  13. We came upon a cattle drive in New Mexico a couple years ago. It was amazing! Thank you for sharing this today.

    1. I love getting caught in cattle drives–unless I’m late somewhere, of course. You’re right, Kathy. It’s a real experience.

  14. We have passed herds being moved a couple of times. Once they were inside along the side of the highway. Most recently, the rancher had blocked the highway with horse trailers and trucks. The hands had mounted up and were moving a rather large herd across the highway from one pasture area to another. They did have several dogs helping out. There were a couple little kids at the crossing with a parent or “babysitter” watching the whole process. It held up traffic for a while, but I don’t think anyone complained. They were getting a good taste of the West – both current and past.

    1. Great description of what goes on, Patricia. It’s so interesting to watch. And you’re right about getting a taste of the West. 🙂

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