How to Help Gather Cattle

How to Help Gather Cattle

When asked to help gather cattle, learn the dos and don’ts of the cowboy kind to get invited back next time.

gathering cattle (Credit: Bee Silva)

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By Sara Gugelmeyer for The American Quarter Horse Journal

The learning curve can be pretty steep when it comes to cowboy work. There is an unwritten cowboy code that everyone follows but hardly anyone ever talks about. Whether you are gathering cattle to brand, sort, doctor or ship, there’s a general way things are done. 

The way things are done on a ranch is with respect to who is in charge and cattle being handled. Disrespecting the manager, the owner, the cow boss or whoever is in charge is the quickest way to never get asked back to help. 

  1. Stay in your spot. The quickest way to suck the fun out of cattle work is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Know where to be. How big and rough the pasture is will dictate the amount of zig-zagging back and forth is necessary to be sure no cattle are missed. Cover your country and don’t get into other’s way. 

  2. Never ride in front of someone. This goes hand-in-hand with staying in your spot. You shouldn’t ever need to ride in front of or behind someone, if everyone is doing their job correctly. If someone is riding a green horse and having trouble getting the cows turned or stopped, you can go help, but try your hardest not to compromise your position to do it. 

  3. Be aware of the big picture. It’s important to be aware of everything that’s going on, not just what’s in front of you. If the person on either side of you has to move up farther to push some cattle in, then you ride up and back him up. Once all cattle are lined back out, everyone returns to their positions. Everyone works together as a team.

  4. Don’t overdo it, but keep the cattle together. Don’t put too much pressure on the cattle. Too much pressure tends to end badly with the cattle going in the opposite direction from where you want them to go. Follow the lead guy. If he’s doing something, the rest of the crew needs to back him up to get it done. 

  5. Never ride off first. There are also a few things that are done out of respect for your fellow cowboy. For example, when someone stops to open a gate, file through but then wait for the boss to lead off again. 

  6. Don’t bring a dog unless asked. A lot of cattlemen use dogs to help push cattle out of thickets or bring cattle out of steep rocky areas where it’s hard to go horseback. But some people don’t like dogs used on their cows, and if the cattle aren’t used to them, dogs can cause all kinds of problems. 

  7. Ride your best horse. Don’t ride a colt or green horse that won’t be able to handle the job. Unexpected things happen and it’s important to be prepared for anything. A good solid, broke horse is best. 

  8. Never assume you’re going to rope. At a branding, the boss will assign duties. After cattle are sorted, dismount and secure your horse so you’re ready to work in the ground crew until you’re asked to rope. 

Cowboy culture is very different depending on the part of the country you’re in. Whether it’s flat hats in the Great Basin or ball caps back east, the same basic rules apply, even though some of the details might be a little different. They all follow general rules to treat the boss and the cattle with respect. 

Want to learn more? Download AQHA's free Cowboy Etiquette e-book. The free guide covers more cowboy manners for roping, branding, working cattle and herding cattle.