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Across the fence: Cowboy classification

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 May 2019

Show up to any cattle sale, and you are sure to see a variety of cowboys. Folks who don’t know agriculture assume all cowboys are the same, but saying one cowboy is the same as all the others is like saying a horse is the same as a pony. (Gasp!)

If you’ve got manure on your boots, that does give you a level of authenticity, but that doesn’t mean we are all the same. In no way am I saying any one kind of cowboy is better than another. Each style has its positive traits. Except for one: The crasher.

We once had a guy show up to one of our brandings on a Harley. He seemed like a nice guy – until he took off motoring through our herd. He couldn’t hear us yelling at him over the roar of his engine as he scattered cattle. Several guys finally flagged him down before the mess got worse. We thought he’d come with someone but, in hindsight, we realize he saw us branding as he zipped down the road and joined in, although he didn’t stay long. Once he got the instructions, and we put him in charge of cooking Rocky Mountain oysters, he disappeared. He was a crasher.

A branding crasher. I bet he stuck to crashing weddings after that. These types aren’t really cowboys. They jump in, have no idea what is going on, grab a beverage or two and disappear. We generally avoid this type, although we do not have bouncers at our brandings. Thankfully, nothing like that has ever happened again, or we might consider bouncers.

Another type of cowboy hard for many ranchers to stomach is the wannabe. If it is someone new and willing to learn, that’s fine. We all have to start somewhere. I’m still learning a lot myself.

However, a wannabe is the guy who wants to be a cowboy without actually knowing anything. He’s the one who tries to pick up girls by saying he’s a cowboy. He has no idea what a cow eats or how much, but he’ll try to impress you with his plastic cowboy hat and stick horse. He is usually difficult to get away from because he always has a story – one that is never relevant.

When it comes to actual cowboys – folks who work with cattle on a regular basis – there are many different types. Each type holds validity because there is more than one way to skin a beaver, so it isn’t that I’m claiming one is right and one is wrong. Although there have been family feuds started over such things: There are table-branders and rope-and-draggers. Whoop-and-holler and cattle-whisperer. Penny-pincher versus spendy-trendy. Three-strand fencers versus four-strand fencers. Flat-brimmed hat versus rolled edges. Horses versus four-wheelers.

The reality is: Regardless of our personal preferences, if we step outside our own perspective, we may find an appreciation for new things. It doesn’t mean we have to change our practices, but we can value something different.

Oftentimes these differences are regional – obviously there will be practices done in hot, dry climates that won’t work in cooler climates. After all, we wouldn’t plant a peach tree in Montana and expect it to grow. Likewise, we wouldn’t raise Bonsmara cattle from Africa in the snow.

In addition to learning new things, we must also realize most of us have fit into almost all cowboy categories at some point in our lives. I mean, when we first got married, our budget was small. When we added buying cows and land to that, we started cobbling fences together anyway we could – even though we’d have rather put up new ones – easily labeling us as penny-pinchers. We still tend to lean toward the penny-pinching side, but we no longer duct tape tools back together.

Also, when we first started out, we whooped and hollered a lot more than we do now. We never wanted to be mean or anything, but we definitely are much calmer now than in the beginning. We’ve realized our whooping and hollering doesn’t help – it just spikes cortisol levels. (Besides, none of us want to feed the public notion cowboys are unnecessarily rough with animals. Unfortunately, this idea of inhumane treatment still exists.)

There was also a time we fit into the always-have-to-be-working group. Much of it stemmed from necessity, but there was also an element of fear.

“If I stop working, I might not eat.”

“All ranches are built on sweat and tears.”

“Don’t stop working, or you’ll be lazy.”

Now we get tired easier, so I’m afraid we fit into a whole new classification …

Here’s the bottom line: At any given point in time, we’ll probably fit into some type of classification, and it may not even be one we intended. I guess if we live authentically and consider others’ perspectives, wherever we fit, it’ll work out just fine. As long as we aren’t crasher wannabes.  end mark

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