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Cattle industry rides strong with horse traditions

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 July 2013

The identity of cattle production has long been attached to the iconic image of the rancher roaming the prairie on horseback.

With today’s population of food consumers a few generations removed from the family farm, most of them likewise envision beef ranchers inspecting their herd while perched in a saddle.

This raises the question of whether that image is based in reality among today’s beef production herds. The answer is yes – but perhaps not as much as we think.

Truth be told, a good portion of today’s beef cattle industry is doing its job without the help of horses. In our most recent survey sent to Progressive Cattleman readers, from a sampling of 775 respondents, the number who owned and used horses on their beef operation was split down the middle: 50-50.

By comparison, the number who owned ATVs on their operation was 86 percent to 14 percent for those who don’t.

Those results shift a little bit when producers with larger herd sizes are tallied, but not by much. At the most, the number of beef producers that own horses never tops 60 percent.

We’ve seen some anecdotal evidence of this trend since we started Progressive Cattleman. When we put a photo of a horseman on the cover of the magazine, like the great shot we have this month, the image sparks some positive vibe among horse-savvy audiences in Montana, Colorado and Texas. But in other places, such as the upper Midwest and Southeast, the image may evoke a mere shrug.

Beef producers who don’t use horses can give multiple reasons explaining why. The current management costs, especially for feed, are especially high.

Grazing land is also tighter than ever, requiring a lesser need to cover territory in the saddle. Operational use of ATVs, tractors and pick-ups can also be easier and more efficient for many ranches.

All of those are legitimate reasons for beef producers, who wisely choose their own cattle-raising tools for the opportunities they have.

But it’s important to recognize how horses in cattle ranching still play an essential role in the overall perception and success of the industry.

When a rancher watches the herd on horseback, it reaffirms the tradition of land and animal stewardship that built the beef industry. It tells consumers that dedication to animal welfare isn’t a profit motive but a way of life.

Most of all, it represents a work and lifestyle that has no substitute. For horse-riding ranchers who live to ride, being on the pasture with reins in hand to move, brand, doctor and sort cattle is the only way to make a living.

Many of today’s consumers have never been on a horse or perhaps even seen one up close. But their fondness for beef has a connection to the image of a rider loping along the herd in the high range.

In fact, they’ve come to almost expect it. Luckily, they have the dedicated ranchers who are happy to deliver it.  end mark

cooper_david_pc

 
David Cooper
Editor
Progressive Cattleman magazine

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