Some years back, while reading of one of the west’s reputation ranches, I spotted a picture of the ranch manager. The eyes, I am told are a direct extension of the brain; the closest one can come to determining what goes on in the mind is by studying the eyes.
In the eyes of this manager, I thought I spotted kindness, integrity, intelligence. He was a man I determined to meet, to study, to question in regard to my lifelong interest in cows and cowmen. Eventually, this came about.
He was born to cows; his parents fought Indians, drought and insects to make a home, and his grandfather put together the first big cattle drive out of Texas following the Civil War.
This man graduated from college with a degree in animal husbandry, then went to cowboying for $25 a month and board; got into business for himself in time to get caught in a drouth that broke him.
Finally, he applied for, and got, the job managing this reputation ranch. He was not satisfied with the quality of its cattle and this was his primary objective:  Improve the herd. All other ranch practices revolved around this primary objective.
What does it take to build a fine herd of cattle?
He told me, “It takes somebody with a vision, an eye for the cow, the bull he wants. Every time he works a herd of cattle he bears that in mind.
“That’s the reason a man spends a lifetime building a herd of cattle. I’ve looked for size, scale, conformation, fleshing, quality, uniformity. When I looked for a bull, I knew the breeding I wanted. I wanted him to look like a bull. How do I know if that bull is going to breed like he looks? They nearly always do.”
Many men visualize the “right” kind of cows. Yet so often the great, or even good, herd escapes them. Why?
This question was asked of a man whose personal efforts had failed. Here’s his self-analysis.
“First,” he said, “my interests have been too diverse. In spite of my affection for the cow business, it was not great enough to command my absolute devotion, time and attention. The great cowmen I have known threw their entire energies into the herd.
“Second, it took me many years to equate sound business practices with the cow business. Successful cowmen today know basic business methods are essential in any kind of enterprise.
“Third, and most difficult of all, I never affixed in my mind the image of the cow I wanted to breed. First I wanted one kind of cow with certain bloodlines, then another kind of cow with different bloodlines.”
Item No. 2 would appear to be the most simple to overcome. By a mere study of business practices, and application of them to a given enterprise, a rancher should be able to put his herd on a sound business footing.
But item No. 3 is, I think, the most difficult to attain. Grant that a man has the business ability to run a low-margin enterprise like is too-often necessarily in this affair of ours; grant that he can lock his interests in on breeding a better cow, he still must come up with the most necessary trait of all.
He must KNOW cows. Some men appear to instinctively possess this trait; others, through intense interest and single-mindedness and study, have developed the trait. Most never are able to place into their brain, to retain and build from it, the image of the cow they would breed.
Ironically, the most inspiring ranching success story I ever came across was – hold your breath – from a sheepman. But his principles are applicable to the cow business, too. Were it otherwise they would have no place here.
This man attended school one day – at age 13 – and learned to write three words: “The dog runs.” His father, an old Chisholm Trail drover, then put him out herding sheep. So determined was this boy to succeed that he scratched out arithmetic problems on flat rocks as he herded sheep; his textbooks were labels from canned goods, scraps of newspapers.
So miserable in poverty was he that, when drouth hit his Oklahoma area shortly after the turn of the century, he persuaded his father to let him drive the sheep to New Mexico, “where I heard the tallow grass was good.”
The boy stayed through much hardship, homesteaded when he was 21. As the years rolled on, he bought land with borrowed money, often was in debt for more than his worth; but he had dedicated his life to a goal, and succeeded in building a small empire for himself and his children.
In reviewing a good many years spent in the company of cowmen, I realize there is no set rule on which economic plateau you will find a successful cowman. But all successful cowmen possessed a great number of the same characteristics and philosophies. And they were all humbled by one point of knowledge:  Mankind can get along better without them than without the cow.


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