I was at a very large cattle ranch this spring that was very traditional in that everything was done on horseback. As the manager stated, “If these boys can’t hold a rope in their hand, they won’t do it.” I like the fact that they are keeping the tradition alive and it was a very impressive operation to see. On my ranch however, I have found that I just can’t get enough done in a day on horseback. I will admit, I am a quad cowboy, and a bit of a redneck. Crossing a pasture with multiple electric cross fences is so much faster on a quad and I have trouble carrying barbed wire on a horse.
Let me tell you a bit of a story. Quite a few years ago I had to do a cattle drive in the fall to get a herd to a new pasture I had just added to my cell. The cattle owner was happy to get some fall pasture so he said he would bring out eight cowboys to help with the cattle drive. (Free labour.) This seemed like a better plan than hiring a stock trailer. The plan was to move the cattle about six miles down the road and we only had a half-mile that was not fenced on one side. Other than driveways and crossroads, it looked like a pretty easy drive. A couple horses in back, a lead truck and eight horses along the sides to keep cattle out of the hayfield, should be plenty of horsepower. There were a couple of driveways near the hayfield that I knew might be an issue and I had a thought to put up a fake electric fence across them just to help the cowboys out.
It started out fine. We got past a driveway. Perfect. We then crossed a side road. Easy. We even made it past the hayfield without a glitch. The cowboys were experienced riders and did exactly as they were supposed to and we were heading on up the road like pros. But, as the road narrowed between two farm sites, the cattle balked and turned back. The first thing they did was pile into a driveway. “There goes my fake fence,” I said to myself, but no…they respected it and headed back out to the hayfield.
This flimsy little wire with no electricity tied to a couple shrubs stopped the herd of 300 head. But to get into the hayfield the herd had to get past 10 horses. The cattle blew right by and started up a square dance party in the centre of the hayfield. They took turns calling out moves and they do-se-doed with the cowboys for a good hour. We tried everything to get them moving back out onto the road and past the farmyards. We allemanded left, we allemanded right, we bribed, we called, we chased, we huffed and we puffed. It was not fun. Eventually they tired out enough that they decided to head on down the road. We finally made it to the pasture but we were not done. In the chaos we had a few escapees to collect. Now it was time for these cowboys to practise their roping. Let’s just say the day did not go well. I created negative relationships with a neighbour, a customer and everyone else who helped out that day.
But from every mistake (I mean “experiment that did not turn out the way I expected”), we learn something. The cowboys were experienced riders, but the fake electric fence worked better.
Now, I would like to explain to you my present-day, redneck cattle drive. Two people, a dog, a 1996 Geo Tracker, a 1991 quad and we are set. Here is the scenario; we need to move 800 head down the road to another pasture. I go out in advance with some electric fence supplies on the quad. I run fake electric fences across any openings along the cattle drive. This might be driveways, road crossings, acreages, unfenced land or even ditches that the neighbours don’t want trampled by my herd. Most of the land is fenced in my area but on one of my drives there was almost a full mile of electric fence to put up. On all driveways or road crossings I make sure I put the wire flat on the ground as traffic might still need to cross my fake fence.
We have the pasture cell set up so that the herd is coming out of a smaller paddock with no bush so that it is easy to make sure we get them all out on the first try. I don’t like running a cattle drive with 797 animals and then having to do another with three animals. I always come out of an easy paddock.
If we are all set, I open the gate and take the lead with the quad calling the herd. I am the lead vehicle as the cattle are very used to following the quad. My help is in the Tracker with my working dog. They block the road in the opposite direction as we head on down the road. This is usually a very easy job for my help in the follow-up vehicle as my working dog loves to push up the back of a cattle drive and he is only as aggressive as he needs to be. He’s got 12 years of experience doing it.
As I come up to a crossroad or a driveway where I left the fake electric fence on the ground, I set up a post to raise the wire and continue on my way. After the herd passes the followup person drops the wire on the ground to allow traffic to cross again if need be. My neighbours all know what a fake fence along the road or across their driveway means and they really appreciate it as they know my cattle respect it.
A half-hour of setup, 15 minutes of teardown and a 20-minute cattle drive with only two people and a dog. My redneck cattle drives are easy, low-cost and effective. Those 10 horses square dancing with the herd is only a distant memory.
That little fake electric fence is very powerful to a well-trained herd.
I have even used my fake electric fence to cross a highway. However, I will warn you, solid painted lines on a highway cause issues as cattle are hesitant to cross it. The dotted lines seemed OK. To help get over a solid line on the highway I pull out grass from the ditch and spread it on the pavement to partially cover the line. It does not have to completely cover the line, just break it up.
So if you are ever driving by Busby, Alta. and you see some fake electric fence strung down the edge of the road, take a break and wait for a bit. It is quite a sight to see when 800 head of cattle head on up the road following a redneck on a quad!
– Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta., www.greenerpasturesranching.com, 780-307-6500, email [email protected] This article appeared in the August 2013 issue of Canadian Cattlemen (pgs. 18-19).