By Jan White
Recently, the popular television show, Yellowstone, has piqued the national interest in cattle ranching and all things “cowboy,’ romanticizing the lifestyle. But here in East Texas, local ranchers have always known that raising cattle is less about glamour and more about hard work. Besides needing a reliable horse, ranchers depend on another invaluable helper. Man’s best friend – the cow dog.
Cow dog trainer, Tyler Vandemark, describes the dogs as “our employees, our friends, and our family.” These dogs have, as Vandemark says, “the sheer will to move something that doesn’t want to move.” And basically, that’s what cattle herding is all about.
Many years ago, Ronnie Goolsby, a long-time resident of Crockett, assisted by his black mouth curs and Mark Curry, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Agent from Polk County, took part in a video about herding with cow dogs for the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension office.
Goolsby, who calls himself “just a wore-out cowboy,” has been working cattle and raising black mouth curs for over forty-five years. He’s well known and respected for his knowledge and experience with cattle handling and cow dog training.
Working with cow dogs requires a good relationship between the dog and his master, and black curs are perfect for the task. The breed is believed to have accompanied pioneers headed West to settle in new lands. Those pioneers needed a strong, dependable, intelligent dog to be a working part of their family. And while black curs love people, they love working more. They seem to have a natural instinct for cattle herding, and a seasoned trainer like Goolsby can bring out the best in the breed. His expertise in training cow dogs is easily demonstrated in the AgriLife video, which walks viewers through the steps Goolsby uses when penning cattle.
The job of rounding up the cows is left chiefly to the dogs. Cattle that have been “dog-broke,” as the video’s narrator calls it, quickly form a group as the dogs circle and bark at them. A cow’s instinct is to avoid predators, so the cow dog acts as a predator to get the cattle to respond as a herd. The cows come readily together to avoid pressure from the dogs. Dog-broke cattle will come from good distances when they hear the baying dogs because they’ve become used to the roundup routine.
The next step of the process is referred to as the “bay up.” Bay up is a period of time that allows the cows to slowly and calmly bunch up into a herd. The bay up also gives any stragglers time to join the herd and settle down before they start the move toward the pens.
Sometimes a cow will come out and challenge the dogs but quickly returns to the herd. Typically during the bay-up period, the dogs stay out of the herd and only present pressure on the cows attempting to escape.
When Goolsby judges the cattle to be settled and ready to drive, he and Curry ride to the herd slowly, circling, and approaching them from the side opposite the pens. In order to get the cattle to move toward the pens, the riders put pressure on the rear of the herd. The dogs instinctively orient themselves on the side opposite the riders, but since the cattle they are working with are dog-broke, Goolsby directs the cow dogs to move to the back of the herd to let the cows drift towards the pens.
The dogs’ presence helps to maintain the integrity of the herd and prevent scattering. Goolsby and Curry are very patient with the cattle, allowing them to go at their own pace. As the cattle enter the pen, Goolsby keeps the dogs back in case any of the cows try to break free past the riders, but today the cows were cooperative, and the penning was successfully completed without incident.
Cattle herding is integral to ranchers. Getting it done the right way is equally important. Goolsby does it the right way. Even after almost a decade, the video created by Ronnie Goolsby is still a highlight of the resource pages for the Texas AgriLife Extension program. To view the AgriLife video, visit www.houston.agrilife.org and click on the “Ag & Natural Resources” tab.