Pages Navigation Menu

Round ‘Em Up and Ship ‘Em Out!

Let the wilderness drive us forth as wanderers, scatter our broken bones upon these sands…it shall not kill the purpose that brought us here…the dream still lives, it lives…and shall not die.

PAUL GREEN, North Carolina Playwright and Pulitzer Prize Winner


The dates were set several months ago and the day working crew assembled by phone call. It’s time for fall gathering and weaning.

Original dugout ca. 1895.

The early morning shadows outside the window hides the corral in shades of gray, and I’m thinking about the dugout that remains at ranch headquarters as a reminder of the people and the work that started long before we were even born.

The dirt dwelling has endured many transformations through the years as evidenced by crumbling cement in various shades, pipes and wires that seem out of place, and the ancient bath tub that stands in one corner. The story goes that at one time a family of three made room every night for four cowhands and their bedrolls. I always wonder about the lady-of-the-dugout, too. Garland Snow Whiteside Sanford would have probably been awake before sunrise, just like we do today. I imagine she might have taken a few moments to appreciate the stunning Texas sky before filling her cast iron skillet with bacon. The menu hasn’t changed much in 100 years. Feeding hungry cowboys is an important part of the ranch work, too.

Casey and Kerry Dean wait for the signal to begin the sweep to drive the herd towards headquarters. Sunrise, Sanford Ranch. Pic by N. Bright.

The day starts early so that the work can be finished by noon, before the afternoon heat, which is less stress on the calves. Every morning for two weeks, with spurs jangling, hungry day workers line up to fill their coffee cups in our cookhouse. All heads bow as Ranch Foreman, B. P. Vinson, blesses the food and offers up prayers for an injury free day. Tavia and Belinda serve up a traditional southern breakfast while it’s still dark outside. Hot and flavorful, the eggs, biscuits, and sausage gravy disappears in record time. Believe me, it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted in your life.

Everyone hustles outside where B. P.  points cowboys and cowgirls to assigned stock trailers. Bridles clink, leather creaks, and hooves clop on metal, as horses strange to each other, load up. Sometimes, it’s not a friendly type situation. There’s some kicking, biting and ruckus until the wheels roll, among the horses, that is. Cowboys tend to be extremely mannerly.

A herd of Red Angus, Texas Panhandle. Pic by N. Bright.

The entire herd will be driven to headquarters over the next two weeks, where the calves will be “stripped” from their mommas and fence-lined weaned. That means the calves will be put in one holding trap and across the fence will be their mothers. They’ll bawl for each other over the next 24-hours or so until the cows wander off to graze. The calves finally settle to sink their noses into fresh hay and focus on gaining as much weight as possible over the next 45 days. They’ll be videoed, sold at auction, and then shipped for processing. Hopefully, the heifers will go to another ranch to become the foundation of a new herd for another cow/calf operation.

You might be in disbelief that this kind of work still goes on today. Although I wasn’t raised on a cattle ranch, the attitude is the same when my grandfather planted cotton, or my father worked at his welding shop. There is work to be done. Might as well get to it.

The work ethic I grew up continues today, and is very much alive and well. And ranch work knows no bias. Somebody’s gotta do it, no matter if you’re a man or woman.

Day workers are in the saddle at sunrise. Sanford Ranch Pic by N. Bright.

I tip my hat to the skilled day workers and ranch cooks who help us every year, who hold fast to tradition, and who never take for granted this blessed lifestyle we freely choose to live.

I write books for kids and adults. My cookbook, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’ is a collection of cowboy approved recipes along with history of the cow trails. I also write a western romance series and a middle grade adventure series. Click the link and read it now Amazon to see Natalie Bright Author Page. Support your local bookshop and ask about my books. Thanks!