An Iowa Cattle Drive

Doesn’t involve horses or four-wheelers.  Nope.  It involves SUVs, tractors, and semis.  Really.

Last week, it was time to move our cows from one field to another.  But first they needed to be moved to the barn to get a little medical attention.  The following is how it all panned out.

An Iowa cattle drive goes something like this:

The goal is to run the cattle into that door on the edge of the hoop barn without any issues.

1.) Set the scene.  Choose a time of day when there will not be much traffic on the road, typically mid morning.  Shut all gates along the route the cattle will be driven.  Most generally down the road.  Park extra vehicles in gaps.  Line up two grain semis and the pickup and livestock trailer to create a “fence” across the yard and into the barn you are driving the cattle to.  Prop corral panels where necessary.

2.) Do not feed cattle the morning of the drive.  Mix up a batch of feed, but do not feed the cows!

3.) At least 3, maybe four individuals jump into a four wheel drive vehicle.  Last week, we were slightly short staffed.  We had my father-in-law in the pickup, me in my Expedition, my brother-in-law in the tractor and feed wagon, and my husband got the privilege of bringing up the rear on foot.

4.) Turn on flashers to warn oncoming traffic of the impending cattle that will be wandering the road side.

Calling the cattle out of the field. "Coooome Booooossss!"

5.) Open gate you intend to have the cattle exit.

6.) Call the cows.

7.) Bring in the bait.  Tractor and feedwagon disperses a tiny bit of feed to tempt the cows.  Hungry cows come at a gallop when they realize what is going on.  Tractor takes off with cows in hot pursuit.

Follow the feed wagon, girls!

8.) Cows follow tractor in a somewhat orderly manner, bent on getting fed.  Support vehicles keep stragglers pointed in the right direction.

9.) Cows realize that they have exited their safe pen, decide chasing the feed wagon isn’t worth it, and instantaneously reverse direction to go back to where they came from.  Not cool.

10.) Justin begins hooting and hollering to scare cows back in the right direction.  Support vehicles drive in reverse as fast as they can, without running into each other or into the ditch, to help out.  Honking horns ensues.  Tires may squawk a bit.

11.)  Cows stop, admire what they made the stupid humans do, and turn back towards the feed wagon.  Good news.

Stay in a single file line, dont step on the pavement!

12.) We encounter a few passing vehicles, that are never sure what to do when they come upon this.   We try to flag vehicles on by, but Iowans love to help out, sometimes to a fault.  We grin and bear it.  We are technically using public property, anyway, and we do appreciate that they slow down.

13.)  Cows follow the feedwagon directly into the barn like they knew what they were doing all along.  And less than 10 minutes after it began, it’s over.  On a good day anyway.  Things could have been worse.  Much worse.  Cows can be tricky and stubborn, and things can get ugly in a split second.  One cow could have made up her mind that she was going back to the pen she came from, and if she had gotten by us, it’s almost a sure bet that the rest of the cows would have been close behind.  And if you don’t get things on a first try when working with cattle (or most anything with a mind of its own), the second try will be several times more challenging.  Just like loading hogs, moving cattle is as much of a mental process as a physical one.  The individuals involved in handling livestock must be able to interpret what the livestock is going to do before they do it.

14.) Gate gets shut on cows, cows eat feed.  Portable working chute is set up so we can treat the cows.  Cows go through the chute one at a time and receive a shot to prevent their soon-to-be-born calves from getting scours, a life-threatening form of diarrhea that commonly afflicts new-born calves.  They also have a dewormer poured onto their backs to kill any parasites living in their digestive tracts, another common affliction of animals that can cause poor health.

15.) Cows are given a trailer ride to a new pasture, where they will have their babies, and stay for the rest of the growing season.

Soon, this will be a common scene in our pastures.

And there you have it, a simple, 15 step process for an Iowa cattle drive.  🙂


3 responses to this post.

  1. Love this story; looks dangerous, too. I know what you mean about well-intentioned passersby trying to help out; my Grandma (great ranch hand and horsewoman, actually) made us get out of the car one day to chase a neighbor’s pigs back in their feedlot. Pigs move even fater than cows! did you have any dogs helping?

  2. Posted by Judy Schnittjer on April 19, 2011 at 1:50 am

    Well done!!!

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