As the temperature cools, the leaves turn to brilliant yellow and orange colors, the days shorten and eventually snow appears on the mountain summer range, the cattle head for home. The cows are just like the deer and antelope. They start migrating to the home ranch as the fall weather start to send reminders of winter.
Many of the cattle run in common grazing allotments where several ranchers’ cattle run together (see Kent Price’s posts on the driving cattle to the summer pastures). As the cattle trail from the mountains and reach the low lands, the ranchers have to separate their own cattle from the main bunch and take them to the home ranch.
Depending on the location of the home ranch, the cattle trail five to 70 miles to get to a “cut ground.” A cut ground consists of an open area, vaguely defined either by fences, roads, or topographic features where cowboys separate the cattle according to which ranch’s herd they belong. The cattle are bunched in a localized area and each rancher rides into the herd and “cuts” or brings out his own cattle from the main herd. The cattle are put in a “cut” or herd consisting only of the individual rancher’s cattle. The rancher’s cattle are identified by the rancher’s brand and earmark (tag or notch on the cattle’s ear, much like an earring) that is on each cow.
Many of the cows know where their cut is located and they try to get there on their own accord. If they have their calf with them, the ranchers will usually allow them to go on their own. Many times the cow has become separated from her calf, and has to be “mothered up” or joined with her calf before she is allowed to leave the herd. Yearlings are like many kids and are just having fun. They don’t care where they are while enjoying life.
While the rancher is in the main herd cutting out the ranch’s cattle, other riders are on the outside keeping the main herd in one bunch and only letting out the cattle being driven to the individual cuts. There will be another rider by each individual cut to keep the cattle in their designated area and not allowing stray cattle into the “cut.”
Once the cattle are all separated, they are driven to their home ranch. This process goes on for around two weeks as the cows trail from the mountain pastures. The summer cowboys ride back for the cattle in the mountains which have not headed home. After it has snowed enough to make the landscape white, an airplane is often flown over the range to look for stragglers which are still in the mountains.
As the sun rises over the Wind River Mountains and the steam from the breath or hot bodies of the cattle can be seen in the air, the excitement of working the cattle takes place. It is a great feeling to have a well trained cow horse move its muscles under you as the horse automatically outmaneuvers and out thinks the cow to put her on the edge of the main herd and then into the individual cut. This is also a great time to visit with neighbors and friends.
Some ranchers have private allotments in the foothills and haul or drive their cattle to and from the private pasture, but we’ll save that for another story.
By RealRancher Jonita Sommers -Pinedale, Wyo.