Sunday, March 08, 2009

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

The tally book - cowboy records for all times

Julie Carter

Most folks think that if a cowboy has a brain, he wears it under his hat.

Truth of the matter is everything of importance that he might know is written in a little book carried in his shirt pocket. In fact, it's been said that was very reason for inventing pockets for shirts - that and a place to carry cigarette papers and a bag of Bull Durham.

The tally book usually sports an embossed name on the cover endorsing the company that provided it to the cowboy. This is typically a bank that has a vested interest in the cowboy keeping track of his business.

It's his little black book, often red or green, but has little if anything to do with collecting phone numbers of girls, albeit there is occasionally a need to jot one of those down.

Preprinted dates and categories in the book mean nothing. The cowboy keeps his own style of books and may mark the spot he needs to turn to often with a folded dollar bill or a toothpick.

The data that may set the course for risk management, purchases, hedging, selling or retained ownership could ultimately end up on some computer run by a guy in high-water britches and a pocket full of mechanical pencils. However, the origin of all cattle information is recorded first in the cowboy's tally book.

Similarities to methods and information end there. The detailed cowboy will record the exact date cattle were purchased, their weight and price per pound. He'll record when they were moved from one place to the other and give an estimated weight based in prior knowledge of gain per day in a specific pasture.

Death loss will be noted and counts corrected. Medicine given is accounted for, as are dates, amounts and types of feed and supplementation.

Dates are noted when the bulls are turned in with cows, how many, where and when they were pulled back out of the pastures.

At branding time, numbers of new baby heifers and steers calves are recorded from each pasture and how many are left as bull calves. Those same calves' weaning weights and price per pound will be recorded in the fall, giving historical value to the tally books that end up in a desk or dresser drawer to be found by the generations to come.

A few pages may be dedicated to phone numbers for the feed salesman, parts house, veterinarian and fuel dealer. Others will detail well information, pump jacks and windmills, including when it was last pulled, if new leathers were put in place and when pipe or sucker rod was replaced.

The personal nature of the business showed up when the cowboy recorded information about a particular cow, one of a thousand, like it was someone he knew personally. The notation would read, "White-faced cow, short in the hind quarters, 3 years old, late to breed, check next year." Or "motley-faced cow, horn cut, open last spring, light bred now.

All this critical information in one little book that, in theory, is close at hand and available, always.

But things happen. If he bends over a drinker to fix a broken float and the pocket flap wasn't snapped, the book falls in the water and it's a cussing-fit accident.

If the little woman snags up his dirty shirt off the floor at the end of the day and loads it in the washing machine without first checking the pockets, it's the end of the free world.

There's no question, there are now computer cowboys who ride a variety of noisy, expensive motorized "horses," but even so, they still have a little tally book in their shirt pocket. Likely, right next to their BlackBerry smart phones.

Julie can be reached for comment at

No comments: