The Cowboy Internship

Last week we penned our cow herd. It’s the beginning of spring round-up. The main purpose of this “gather” was to deworm the cows and vaccinate the calves for “black leg,” a clostridial disease related to tetanus, a real killer of young calves and a killer of profit margin in the cattle business. About half the calves were too small to work in the chute, So we roped them. The ropers were horseback and the ground crew was laying down the roped calves, vaccinating and ear tagging as we went.

My mind went to the times when I was working for ranches in the panhandle of Texas. There, all the calf work was done with a rope. There was no chute. In fact most of the time there was no pen. Cowboys a’horseback “held herd” in a fence corner, while the ropers and the ground crew worked the calves, often as many as 300 a day. Those ropers were as skilled as any surgeon. They caught hind legs with deftness and a swiftness that kept those of us on the ground hopping to keep up. Sometimes, I think just to liven things up they’d neck rope one, just to see the circus that produced, as the calf jumped and bawled and the cowboys fought to flank it down, kicking and jumping. I was in my 40s then, and I was ground crew. I surely admired those skillful ropers, their implacable, smooth, quiet way of handling the horse, the rope and the calves was a true cowboy ballet.

Now, here I was, One of the ropers mounted on a good horse spinning out loops to catch calves, at the tender age of 71. My internship in cowboy has been one of the longest apprenticeships of all, over 50 years. Now I know what I want to be when I grow up!

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