Trailin’ Cows

☆ May 18, 2010

This weekend we trailed the cows to their spring pasture.  Because of the climate and the landscape, cows are moved several times a year so they can eat as much fresh, luscious grass as possible.  They have serene spring and fall pastures down in the valley, gorgeous summer pasture on top of the mountain, and they spend the winter at Mike’s house where they are fed hay (sun-dried grass, stored for wintertime) until the green grass grows again.

Trailin’ cows is a long walk, slowly.  There’s no reason to rush the cows; slow and steady allows them to remain calm and mellow, nibble roadside grass along the way, and nurse their calves as needed.  We went about ten miles down the highway; it took about six hours.

Sarah got the very-important-yet-very-boring duty of being the flagger truck.  Her job was to stay about 1/4 mile ahead of the cows and at the head of any blind corners or hills to alert other drivers that the highway was filled with cows. Cows and 70mph vehicles don’t mix well.

You can always tell a tourist from a local because the tourists stop their cars right in front of the cows and wait for the cows to go around them.  Which doesn’t work.  It’s a big strange noisy thing just sitting there, and the cows get nervous and stop or turn around.  Those in the know will drive slowly through the cows, for a potentially threatening thing headed straight-on to a cow will cause the cow to go straight past it ~ and the cows keep moving forward.  There’s a little bovine physics for you.

Another ruralism: you can always tell someone’s trailin’ cows when you see poop splatter headin’ down the road.

I was a’horseback making sure the front of the group kept moving and in the right direction while Mike brought up the rear, on a fourwheeler when necessary but mostly at the very back in a truck and horsetrailer, flagging from the other end.

Cows are quite wonderful the way they string out and follow the leader.  They trust the group and funtion as a whole in so many ways.  The older cows have made this journey several times and know exactly where they are going ~ they act happy to embark on the trek, for they know rolling hills of fresh grass await.

Pro tip: Get that soft-focus, vintage look by leaving a nice big thumbprint on your lense.  (Or, you can achieve the same effect by stretching a layer of tulle across the lense!  Try it!)

Ranger is a fantastic horse but he detests trailing.  He gets very bored.  He’d rather be out breaking trail or racing across the BLM than stuck on a highway with cows for six hours.  And it’s true ~ trailing cows is one of those things (at least for me) that is far more romantic in concept than action.  I’d rather be out breaking trail or racing across the BLM, too!

All morning, Ranger kept turning around in an attempt to start back home ~ as if I wouldn’t notice.  And when I thwarted his attempt, he’d toss his head in irritation and I’d spin him in a circle back to the front and we’d walk for a while and then: another attempt to rebel, another showy head toss, another spin on his hind feet, another thousand yards.  I called it the Ballet of Belligerence.

ranger is waiting for his limo
When we were done, and Ranger heard the horse trailer approaching, he perked up.  I dare say he was delighted.  And the calves frolicked in the water like kids and the cows buried their noses in grass.


26 Responses to “Trailin’ Cows”

  1. Deborah
    May 18th, 2010 @ 8:30 am

    Wow! I learned a lot here about cows. So very interesting and informative. I have to laugh at Ranger’s antics. He seems to have quite the personality. Animals… have to love them. A wonderful way to start my morning at work reading this post. Thank you so much.

  2. Birdcage
    May 18th, 2010 @ 8:50 am

    Fascinating! I would probably be one of the tourists who wouldn’t know what to do if I rounded a bend and found a herd of cows walking towards my car.

  3. Roxanne
    May 18th, 2010 @ 9:14 am

    Like you, though not even close to as well, I’m trying to capture THESE moments of a life that seems harder and harder to find.
    I want to put them all in a book for my grand…grand…grand…well, you get the idea…just in case…it all disappears someday.
    Okay, gotta’ laugh at the “thumb” tip…Little H watches your “Charlie” videos…over and over…the other day on the one I believe called,”Home” she said,”I love this but you should tell Shreve she gots her thumb in the “pitchures” *LOL*

  4. Scargosun
    May 18th, 2010 @ 9:17 am

    This made me smile; thinking about the older happy cows enroute to a favorite place and then the calves playing in the water. It’s like the painful trip to a fave family vacation spot. :)

  5. The Equestrian Vagabond
    May 18th, 2010 @ 9:40 am

    Many horses would turn tail and run when the trailer approaches, but this ranch horse knows when the ride home is coming!

  6. Assana
    May 18th, 2010 @ 9:45 am

    Look at all these babies! Awwh!

  7. Anastasia
    May 18th, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    I’d be one of the tourist-types to stop my car but I’d probably pull off the road first. And then I’d just sit and grin and be happy as a clam surrounded by all the cows. It may be a boring ride, but cherish it! It’s a way of life many of us dream of.

  8. Pat D.
    May 18th, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    Great documentary-type photos of the trail ride!

    Ranger’s behavior is funny, but shows his intelligence. If a horse thinks you’re not paying attention, he’ll try to take all the advantage of you he can! Does he also try to hold his breath, so the cinch will fit looser when he lets it out? Mine always tried that one…

  9. laura d.
    May 18th, 2010 @ 11:40 am

    Gee. . . the ballet of beligerence. I love it – I could use that term for some of my more “wonderful” 2nd grade students!!!
    LOL :) Thanks

  10. Lisa
    May 18th, 2010 @ 11:48 am

    My horse likes to do the Ballet of Beligerence too…except that she is not trailing cows…only wanting to go home!

  11. Claudia
    May 18th, 2010 @ 11:53 am

    Laura D — I know exactly what you mean :)

    Loved this post, Shreve! I’m so glad you started this blog. Thanks for the lessons in bovine physics, trailing and photography — a nice eclectic mix today!

    P.S. I think it’s ridiculous you have to explain why people can’t just drop by (your rapid blonde post)… for any person who stops by there are a hundred of us who would gladly give them a piece of our minds.

  12. Paula
    May 18th, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

    I love your tales… I can only imagine how tired you must have been that day after 6 hours on horseback. Just curious, how did Sarah alert oncoming traffic to the cows in the road, especially if they couldn’t see the cows ahead? I’d like to be able to recognize a flagger if I happen upon one! Thanks for the tip about driving slowly through the cows, I’m sure my instinct would be to stop for them as well.

  13. catherine
    May 18th, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    That thumb print is very Sarah Moonesque or Sarah Moonish.
    Again nice retro look. Once I had a buffalo lean against my car in yellow stone, it was a zen moment, I waited for the rangers, took a while, I got a good look at him though…. I love those cows crossing the town; as I wrote on Sarah’s blog, who also had great pictures, I went trough Ten sleep once and the town is so sleepy and nice,great barns, it would have been fun to see you guys crossing the town with the baby cows. Maybe it could be an event in Ten Sleep ” town crossing” and we could all line up and watch and cheer and then head for the saloon.

  14. catherine
    May 18th, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

    A question, who milks the cows in the pasture, do you have to drive there twice a day ? I did not see Daisy in the group, she stays home with you ?

  15. Ava
    May 18th, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

    ::raises hand::
    I’d be another clueless tourist who’d stop and wait for the cow-tide to flow past me. Sigh.
    Always interesting, Shreve. I knew in theory, had read about, cows moving to new pastures but never once really thought about the logistics of how they did it. And for all the times I’ve driven around backroads in the west I’ve never seen this. Hidden Americana and isn’t this a fascinating ol’ world?

  16. Deborah
    May 18th, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    I know this is my second post here today, but would love to see more photos of the landscape where you live. These pictures are beautiful Love to see more of Wyoming. Thanks!

  17. Sandy G.
    May 18th, 2010 @ 4:12 pm

    Shreve, You make everything so interesting. I feel like I am getting to experience it too, which is great! I love hearing your insights into animal behavior. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  18. Chris
    May 18th, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

    Lovely essay and images. Rural life has its advantages and disadvantages; you do a good job of describing the whole deal.

    Pat D: if that’s a sign of intelligence, then the horses on my family ranch were frickin’ geniuses, the ill-tempered so-and-so’s… I’m glad I learned to ride as a kid, but it was never my favorite thing to do while visiting Grandma and Grandpa.

  19. Colleen
    May 18th, 2010 @ 6:36 pm

    These pics and your description are AWESOME! You really know how to bring it to life on the web. Thanks for sharing. Ranger is just a hoot! He sounds like he certainly likes to see just how far he can challenge you! What a sweet face he has – kinda deceiving I guess! The cows are awesome too! 6 hours on a horse would make for one very sore butt, I would think ;-)

  20. Steph in Oregon
    May 18th, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

    The many hats you wear! Your life is so interesting; technology and trailin’….what fun!

  21. Lesley
    May 18th, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

    “the Ballet of Belligerence”

    ‘Sheereve’ poetry

  22. Red
    May 19th, 2010 @ 2:29 am

    What an awesome post. Loved every word and every picture!

  23. Robert
    May 19th, 2010 @ 10:30 am

    Here in the desert, we truck our critter’s to the high pasture. Then some folks (down in the Baja) let the critters find their own way!

  24. Taryn
    May 19th, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

    Viewing this from the densely populated, suburban mid-atlantic east coast, your life style is like a dream. It’s seems impossible that it still exists in this country.

    But, growing up in rural southern New Jersey (yes! rural Jersey!), the school bus had to stop and wait for the dairy cows to cross from the barn to their pasture across the street. And believe it or not, 40 years later, that farm still exists and cows still stop the bus. So I guess it’s not so impossible.

  25. Camille
    May 19th, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

    I’d be one of the tourists to pull over and watch the cows for no reason at all. XD
    You have inspired me to get a dairy cow when I settle down somewhere nice and rural and away from politics, wal-mart, and cellphones. Well… maybe not cellphones. I’d feel pretty smart if I got lost in the middle of the night without one. You lucky tree-less people have a clear view of the sky; the trees here in Florida will swallow you whole!
    I hate to be off-topic, but I don’t think we’ve seen a night picture on here or TDC. I may just be romanticizing things, but I spend many nights pondering just how glorious the stars are in open, low-populated areas like Ten Sleep…

  26. Nanci
    May 26th, 2010 @ 9:44 am

    Yeah, I would be a tourist and stop and gawk at the cows. It must be a road less traveled, hopefully.

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