Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Big Drive (Bidegain)

Each fall, the T4 Ranch in New Mexico trails about 600 cow-calf pairs from the top of its Mesa Rica down to its corrals below, where the calves are weaned. The trip covers about 20 miles and includes a narrow, winding road that drops 1,000 feet off the mesa. In Montana, the CA Ranch organizes two drives each year. It moves 2,000 head more than 40 miles, taking the cows and their young calves to mountain pasture in the spring and returning just the cows to the lowlands for winter. Both ranches rely on seasoned horseback cowboys who under-stand the art of directing large bovine masses to a specific destination. It’s a complex task, especially when calves are involved. “The size of the calves will dictate the speed you’re going,” says Phil Bidegain, whose family owns and operates the T4. “The little ones are taking smaller steps, and they tend to fall into the drags. So you have to slow down and really keep an eye on the drags, make sure one of them doesn’t escape back to where he saw his mama last. Sometimes you have to stop and let them mate up again. “The calves we move are older and ready to be weaned, so it’s not as difficult.” The T4 trails half of its herd on the mesa to the corrals one day, weans the following day and returns the mama cows the third day. Then the same process is repeated for the remaining half. It helps that most of the cows are familiar with the annual trip, but that doesn’t make it automatic, especially when navigating the steep, switchbacked road. “Coming down, you have a couple of cowboys up front so everything doesn’t start rolling too fast,” Bide-gain says. “And you have guys on the sides keeping the cows on the road. Going up is more difficult than down. We take the cows in three or four groups up the road to the top. You don’t need anyone in front for that.”...more


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