Grit Blogs > Eastern Sandhills Diary

Spring Cattle Drive - May 20, 2009

By Jennifer Burtwistle 


Tags: cattle drive, pasture, ATV,

Jennifer BurtwistleLast Fall I promised to tell you about driving our cattle home from our west pastures. However, that adventure didn’t go quite as planned.

It started out as a drizzly day, and quickly progressed to a windy day with horizontal freezing rain, not at all conducive to photography – especially when I forgot the camera. My husband, Jim, and I arrived at the west pastures with a manual transmission diesel pickup with his ATV loaded in the back. I had just had eye surgery and was not seeing particularly well, and am generally not allowed to drive the stick shift vehicles since I tend to ‘round off the gears’. Jim is an excellent herdsman, and is gentle with his cattle, so they trust him and come to his calls. He started calling them as we drove into the pasture, and they began to follow the pickup as planned. Jim was going to have them follow him on the ATV and my job was to meet them on the road to help drive them home. But, to make matters more complicated, the ATV refused to start, and the herd was surrounding us, understanding that it was time for them to head home. Jim decided to walk ahead of them, in the freezing rain, across the pasture. It had to be a very long mile for him, but he looked very much like the Pied Piper with his entire herd behind him. I snapped a couple of photos with my cell phone, but you can imagine what those looked like. It took awhile, but I found my way to the gate and met him on the road, and we drove the herd home. After hot showers, dry clothes, and a pot of coffee, we were finally warm.

Driving the herd out to the west pastures yesterday was, by contrast, a splendid adventure. Aside from yet another ATV incident, flat tire this time, all went reasonably well.

Jim, our son, Will, and Jim’s brother, Rich, rounded up the herd at around 6:00 a.m. The cattle seem to know when it is time to travel and they were eager to head out. I say that because they were literally running toward the west, making it hard for their month-old calves to keep up. We drive cattle using ATV’s rather than horses now – partly because our horses are old and deserve a rest, and partly because ATV’s stop when you want them to. [photo 1 – to come]

The cows did not keep up their initial pace and slowed considerably after a mile or so. The guys were headed across neighboring pastures, a distance of approximately 6 miles. I stayed home to prepare a picnic lunch and met them with the diesel and trailer when they reached the highway. Crossing a highway with a herd of cattle can range from being tricky to disastrous, but this year was remarkably uneventful. There was no traffic from either direction, so the cattle crossed and headed down the gravel road on the way to the west pastures. As mentioned earlier, one ATV blew a tire when Jim ran over a broken off tree stump, so we loaded the ATV into the trailer, and Jim hopped into the pickup with me. Our daughter, Laura, agreed to walk to help drive the herd. Will gave her a ride to catch up with the cattle. 

ATV and trailer 

The wind had picked up, and the road we were on carries fairly heavy tractor-trailer traffic to a feedlot, so there was a lot of dust.

A lot of dust

We needed to travel about 5 miles along this road to the point where we headed across pasture to our destination.

Driving the cattle down the road

There is always at least one cow bent on reaching greener pastures ahead of time who jumps a fence and has to be redirected back to the herd.

A cow who jumped the fence

The calves tended to fall behind the cows, preferring the grass in the road ditch to the gravel road.

Calves fall behind

Will grew a little impatient at times with the 4 mile-per hour pace.

Will gets impatient

Will received instructions about which gates to close up ahead while Jim gathered more rocks for his make-shift cattle ‘motivator’, consisting of an antifreeze jug found in the ditch that he filled with gravel. He would toss this behind the cattle startling them, so they would continue to move along.

Jim and his cattle motivator

Good friend, Cole Stevens, who helps us drive cattle each spring, took his turns walking.

Cole takes his turn

Laura or Will occasionally helped a trucker navigate through the herd by leading them through on the ATV.

Helping a trucker navigate the herd

As the cows traveled further, the herd tended to spread out, which actually made it easier for the traffic to move through the herd.

The herd spreads out.

Cattle drives also provide ample opportunities for some father-daughter bonding time.

Father-daughter bonding

We finally reached the point where we let down the fence and crossed the neighbor’s pasture to get to our pasture.

Turning into the pasture

Jim stapled the fence wires back to the posts and continued on foot behind the herd. Laura and I drove the rig around the road to the pasture and waited for the herd to arrive. We could see the herd at a distance and watched as Jim counted the cattle as they passed through his gate.

Herd in the distance

The guys waited for the cows and calves to pair up, and then headed toward us.

Heading back

When the drive was finished, we rested and had a picnic in the make-shift shade of the trailer, while Laura sent text messages to her boyfriend.

Resting in the shade

The drive took about 5 hours from home to the pastures 13 miles to the west.

Jim returned to the pasture later last evening to check on his herd and make certain all the calves had found their mothers. His job for the next day involved helping another neighbor drive cattle to a different pasture.