Wednesday, June 28, 2017
What is the future of the Texas cowboy?
It’s spring roundup time here on Texas’s Spade ranch, when calves are branded and castrated and given their shots. In a time of big ranch conglomerates using drones and helicopters to move herds from above, the Spade cowboys pride themselves on being an old breed. They still gather their cattle by horseback, and they rope and drag their calves with tight, practiced loops. Their branding irons are still heated over a mesquite fire dug out of the red sand. And when it comes to their horses, each man can ride like a bandit.But the past year had been particularly harsh. In March, wildfires spread by heavy winds ravaged over a million acres across five states. Here in the Texas panhandle, it wiped out ranches and farms and overtook four people, along with thousands of cattle...But on this first night of the roundup, as the sun sank low over the Canadian river breaks, the cowboys discussed a more pressing topic as they finished their chuck wagon supper. “I tell you, it’s hard finding a good hand these days,” said Josh Ownbey, as he tucked into peach cobbler scooped from a Dutch oven. Everyone agreed, especially here in Texas.The oil and gas boom had lured away many a skilled cowboy and sent him threading drill pipe or pushing buttons on a frac truck. The money was fast and furious for small-town boys and vanished on Super Duty pickups, Easley trailers and diamond engagement rings. Many sold off their horse tack, convinced they’d never punch calves again. Out of the eight cowhands assembled near the chuckwagon fire, only four have the pleasure of doing it full time. The Spade operate six divisions across the state, totaling nearly 300,000 acres, and the men live and work on its biggest ranch near Colorado City. The rest had found other jobs close to the trade and took day work to keep their skills sharp.