Ranching Blog: Terms

Ranching Blog: Terms

Here are a few terms you might hear us using around the ranch.

text size

By Jenn Zeller

Have you ever brought an Owly Cow in from the pasture? A while back, I mentioned doing so on Facebook, and this statement had folks asking me, “What the heck is an ‘owly cow’?” 

This brought forward an idea for a blog post – some ranch terms to know.  Enjoy!

1. The Owly Cow

If you’ve never heard the term “owly,” we use it to refer to a cow that is high-headed, uncooperative and unpleasant to deal with. 

We raise Brangus cows and a lot of them can be high-headed but aren’t uncooperative, so we use another term to describe those cows that aren’t really down with doing what we ask. In this case, the cow in question took a tour of the river bottom, and went about 3 miles farther on her trip home than she needed to. But sometimes that’s how it goes: You gotta take these cows where they think they want to go to get control of their feet.

2. High-Headed/On the Fight

An owly cow may not be on the fight, she may simply not be cooperative. A high-headed cow, might be one that’ll go where you want, but she puts her head up to do it, and may get on the fight if you push her too much.

3. Outfit

This does not refer to what a person is wearing. It refers to what they drive, or their ranch. If you get a new outfit, that means you probably got a new pickup. Or if you’re off early in the morning you’re probably going to help the neighbor at their “outfit.”

4. Pickup

Here, a pickup truck is called a pickup, not a truck. A truck is what comes to take your calves away in the fall. It’s big, and is often referred to as a semi or an 18-wheeler.

5. Gather

This is the term we use to describe what others might call a “round-up.” As in, we are going to gather the cattle for branding, or we are going to gather the herd to sort pairs. 

6. Sorting Pairs 

This should be self-explanatory – you sort off the cow and her calf. Together they equal a pair. 

7. Dam

While this is a mama horse, it’s also a man-made watering hole. Often, they’re built at the bottom of a draw (that’s a gully for some of you), so they catch run-off to fill up. Growing up in Texas, we called them tanks or stock tanks. 

8. Tank

Also a man-made watering hole, but these are usually the kind of water tank a person can buy at the local farm/ranch store. Not the kind that requires a backhoe to build – unless you’re from Texas. 

9. First-Calf Heifer

Heifers are bovines that haven’t ever had a baby. Typically they’re 2-year-olds, but they could be 4 or 5 if they’ve never been bred. Once they’ve calved, they’re referred to as “cows.” So if someone tells you they’re calving heifers, they’re likely not getting much sleep, as these are the girls mostly likely to have trouble giving birth and mothering, as they’re new to both. 

10. Hay Season

Otherwise known as the “Don’t bother anyone season.” They’re in the hay field from dawn until dusk, unless they’re cutting or baling alfalfa and then that may be reversed. The faster the grass gets cut and baled (into large round bales in our part of the country), the sooner everyone can get back to things they find more fun. 

What are the terms you might use in your part of the country? 

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.