What’s the fastest way to move 500 head of cattle five miles from one butte, down a steep slope and across a valley?
Let the cows set the speed.
“Old timers will tell ya that going slow you’ll get there faster,” says Stacy Davies, manager of Roaring Springs Ranch. “Young men want to move at their speed, not at a cow’s speed.”
Oregon Field Guide visited this historic cattle ranch in southeastern Oregon and learned that cattle drives, in many ways, have changed little since a century ago. For instance, Jose Villagrana follows the wisdom of his elders. He’ll guide cattle, nudge them and whistle to them. But we never saw him or his horse move any faster than a trot or break a sweat to to get several hundred head to follow his lead. Plus, we never heard him holler. If he’s got to signal the cattle, he and fellow cowboy Hank Vaughn save their voices, instead resorting to whistles, spurts, trills and what can graciously be described as “mouth flatulence.”
Whatever they did, it worked. The cattle followed willingingly, rewarded hours later by a watering hole by midday.
Watch Oregon Field Guide’s story on modern cattle drives Thursday, October 18 at 8:30 p.m.
Can you speak cowboy? Here’s a sneak peek.