Community Cattle Roundup

A farm kid reminisces about his town’s yearly cattle roundup, which included time spent on horseback, the chance to work with experienced cowhands, and a community meal to finish the day.

| Fall 2018

  • men herding young cattle
    A herd of young cattle being rounded up in a corral.
    Photo by Getty/grandriver
  • lone man riding a horse
    Shot of a cowboy riding a white horse
    Photo by Getty/Yuri_Arcurs

  • men herding young cattle
  • lone man riding a horse

I have to admit that growing up on a mixed farm in a sparsely populated, wide-open area wasn't always agreeable to me. There were a lot of parts I tolerated or resigned myself to, and even some parts I enjoyed, but there were extremely few things I actually loved. Yes, I'd always hear about how lucky I was to be raised in the country with the clean, pure air, but some of the time it just went against my grain.

I loved rounding up the milk cows, helping sort the calves from the cows at weaning time, and fetching the sick steer for his treatment, but I dreaded the field work. Give me my pony and let me ride out on my own to check the grass cattle, or even repair some broken fence, but please don't put me in the tractor to go harrow the dust or swath the wheat. Maybe that makes me a poor representative of growing up on a farm, but it is what it is. I couldn't change how I felt.

The highlight of my year came late in fall, after I'd suffered my way through all the swathing, combining, grain-hauling, and baling: Roundup time at the community pasture. In those days, very few farmers had enough good grass for their herds, so some of their cows ended up in the local community pasture. Farmers were allotted a certain number of cattle they could bring. They paid a fee per head, and didn't have to worry about their cattle getting fed or cared for through the summer months. Usually around the end of harvest, when the weather was changing and the grass was almost gone, the time came to round them all up to be sorted and sent to their respective homes for the winter.

This roundup went on for the better part of a week or two, but my parents would only allow me to miss one day of school to take part. To say this was something I really looked forward to would be an understatement. No, I wasn't the best rider, and I didn't have very good equipment and tack, but this was a time when I could mix with the real cowboys and cowgirls of our neighborhood, and work with herds of cattle 20 to 30 times the size of our small herd.

I'd ride my horse to the pasture corrals the evening before, because I didn't really have a way to get him trucked there in the morning, and it was only about 3 miles from our farm. Then, once I made sure he had feed and water for the night, I walked or begged a ride home. That night, I'd be so excited I could scarcely sleep. Early the next morning, I'd jump on my bicycle and ride back out to the corrals before the real cowboys and cowgirls arrived. Those were special mornings. I'd catch my horse and groom and saddle him in the company of those I looked up to and wanted to be like. Often, they gave me pointers on how to better care for my horse, or helped me adjust my tack. Then we'd mount up and head out into the fall prairie. Inexperienced riders like myself were paired with experienced riders, and we'd split off to our assigned area of the pasture.

I'll never forget the feel of the cool autumn winds and the crispness of the air, riding through clouds of my frosty breath. The colors of the leaves on the trees and bushes throughout the river valley were so vivid. It was amazing to be alive.



February 15-16, 2020
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