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Would your resume say cowboy or cattleman?

Erica Louder for Progressive Cattleman Published on 29 June 2016

Last year, my brother-in-law took a cowboy job with a ranch in northern Utah. It’s his dream job, no two ways about that. The guy spends his days on the back of a horse and can train as many cow dogs as he pleases. His rope is never far from his hand, and his cowboy hat doesn’t leave his head. He makes as good a cowboy as Marlboro Man.

This spring we helped my father-in-law work cows on his small ranch. Curtis, the brother-in-law, saw this as the perfect time to show off his cowboy skills to his veterinarian brother, my husband, Craig. Being two years apart, there is pretty much a constant competition between the two men. Curtis’ favorite way to describe Craig is “4.0 and dumber than a box of rocks.” Craig’s retort is always, “Better a 4.0 and dumber than a box of rocks, than 2.0 and dumber than a box of rocks.”

Now, working cattle is stressful under the most ideal circumstances, let alone with a couple men with something to prove. When Curtis was calling his dogs, Craig was attempting low-stress handling. One was reaching for a rope, and the other wouldn’t use anything more than a sorting stick. If you asked Craig, he is a cattleman and Curtis is a cowboy.

Now, the difference between those two words is often discussed in our home. What makes one a cattleman? The name of this publication is Progressive Cattleman, not Progressive Cowboy. Some would probably joke that the latter is an oxymoron. So, who is right?

Recently I attended a cattle-handling seminar. It featured Jim Keyes, an extension agent with Utah State University. He considers his area of expertise ranch roping, horsemanship and livestock handling. During his live cattle handling demonstration, he sorted cattle on horseback, used a rope, a hot shot and spoke of the importance of a good cow dog. He also got off his horse and sorted the cattle on foot, paid attention to behavioral cues and used the “Bud Box” theory.

On one hand he seemed to break every cattle-handling rule and on the other he was textbook perfect. Throughout the demonstration, he brought up the importance of understanding your tools. A rope, a hot shot and a good cow dog are all tools to work cattle. If you are trying to understand your cows and are working towards a goal, like getting the cows through the chute, then no tools are really off-limits.

With that in mind, I think the difference between a cowboy and a cattleman is your intention. In the example of Craig and Curtis, maybe neither of them was the true cattleman. They were both playing cowboy, but each doing it differently. If Curtis’ intention when working cows is to ride his horse and train his dogs, he is a cowboy, not a cattleman. If Craig’s intention is to practice his animal handling theories, he is a cowboy, not a cattleman. If your first focus is indeed the cows, you are probably deserving of the title “cattleman.” The tools you use, be it a rope or “Bud Box” or both, is secondary to the needs of the cows.

Despite the differing theories, the brothers worked the cows in less time than I expected. While neither of them would admit it, they each learned a few things from the other, and the cows didn’t seem worse for wear.

But, Marlboro Man and the veterinarian probably have no business using the title “cattleman” on a resume.  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.