LX RANCH - Kemo Sabe

As told by Yoder

A True Cowboy Experience

LX Ranch

The LX Ranch in the Texas Panhandle is one of the most legendary ranches in the history of the cattle industry. The ranch manager, Dave Anderson, has a saying, “It don’t take long to spend the night at the LX,” and I can assure you that it’s true. I usually arrive at the Ranch well after midnight, and always find the same six-word note nailed to the bunkhouse door: “Be saddled and ready to work at 4:30.” Period.

Understand that when these guys work, they work. They set up camp out on the Ranch and congregate at the chuckwagon with a breakfast of eggs, bacon, flapjacks, biscuits and gravy, and coffee you eat with a fork.

The workday actually starts before breakfast, when the Cowboys catch and saddle their horses, which have spent the night in a large corral. Before even the slightest break of dawn, all the Cowboys form a circle around the horses in the corral, and without saying a word, one Cowboy at a time walks softly into the remuda, ropes his horse, and returns with his horse to the circle, until the last horse is caught. This method eliminates the chaos that would ensue if everyone tried to catch his mount on his own. Not only is this a darned effective way to get started for a hard day’s work, it is a ritual that you would never, ever forget if you witnessed it with your own eyes.

What happens next describes why the American Cowboy is a living legend: It’s just before daybreak, and even though there are fifteen or twenty Cowboys mounted on their horses, everything is quiet and still. The Boss, Dave, sits astride his horse in the center of the Cowboys, and in a barely audible voice, and with very few words, he gives the game plan to round up the herd and bring them in. We then trot off to gather a few hundred cows, calves, and bulls that have been grazing for the past few months in an area that covers thousands and thousands of acres.

We ride for several miles through sage and mesquite, across gullies, drop offs and arroyos, through sand hills and juniper trees, all while we’re trotting at a good pace. It’s barely light, and the only noise is the magnificent sound of a remuda of horses as they are running together. Horse hooves, spurs, and creaking saddles. There is no whoopin’ and hollerin’ like in the movies. This is a business, and there is simply no need to show off and act crazy. For a wannabe Cowboy like me, it’s hard to describe how exciting and satisfying it is to be a part of this extraordinary experience.

After a few miles Dave waves off one Cowboy at a time until we have formed a long curved line of Cowboys and their horses, spaced a few hundred yards apart. Then we begin to slowly gather the herd. For the first hour or so, this seems amazingly easy, since there are only a few cows and calves. But soon, like a storm on the Texas plains, everything begins to change quickly and dramatically. There are now hundreds of cows and calves being driven through the gullies and mesquite thorns into the main herd. The dust and the noise of the bawling cattle is something that I reckon that you have to experience firsthand to comprehend.

To add to the challenge, the bulls are fighting with each other, determined to keep their cows away from the competition. And there are always calves that break away to desperately look for their moms, who are somewhere in the chaos of the herd.

After a few hours the cows and calves have been herded into corrals and the hard work begins. First, the cows are separated from the calves, and since this is the first time that they’ve ever been apart, the bawlin’ and cryin’ creates a racket that words can’t describe.

Next, a fire is built in the center of one end of a corral in order to get the branding irons red-hot. Now, two Cowboys, one on each side of the corral, mount up and rope one calf at a time and drag it back near the fire where young hands, called flankers, have the job of grabbing the calf, picking it up, throwing it down, getting it laid out, then holding it down for the stuff that’s about to be done to it. Like what? Well, vaccinating, cutting horns, castrating, and branding. The flanker jobs go to the youngest Cowboys, usually kids who are still in high school. They always seem to be as thin as a stick and weigh about 110 pounds, but it is astounding just how tough and determined these kids are. The calves weigh anywhere from 125 pounds as a baby, to over 300 pounds for the ones that are a few months old. These kids who are doing the flanking get kicked in their shoulders and legs and sometimes in the head, but it’s all part of the job, and they know it’s probably not a good idea to let Cowboys like Chris Morton get kicked while they are vaccinating or cutting. It’s a very long day for them, but they are learning to be Cowboys, and once in a while, towards the end of the day, the Boss will let them take their turn on their horse, ropin’ calves.

The Boss (Dave) determines who rides and ropes, which is called dragging. Dragging is the best job, but also requires the most skill and partnership between a Cowboy and his horse. Tradition dictates that the first shift is awarded to the oldest hand, and next to a Cowboy from a neighboring outfit who might be there as a courtesy to the host ranch.

The Boss then assigns Cowboys to do the other stuff: flanking, vaccinating, notching the ears, clipping horns, castrating, and branding. Typical of the Cowboy way, there is hardly a word spoken by the Boss in appointing the jobs–little more than eye contact or a head nod.

It’s downright amazing that to rope the calf, drag it to the flanker, vaccinate, notch the ear, clip off the horns, cut the bull calves, and brand takes all of about thirty seconds. I’ll flat tell you, these guys are good! The whole time they are kidding each other about a mistake they made, or one of ’em gettin’ kicked, or darn near gettin’ knocked into the fire. It’s always dusty, the wind is usually blowing, and it seems like it’s either sticky hot or bitterly cold. In other words, it’s about as far away as you can get from sitting in an office in the city.

It is astounding to me that even though Dave is always working hard in the middle of the action, he is also applying his knowledge and experience to manage a successful cattle ranch. If Dave’s records show that they should have brought in 198 units (one “unit” is a cow and her calf) and he has counted only 195 units, he will work to find out where the missing three pairs are. Are they still out there? Did they somehow get through a fence? Or has something happened to them? He also takes a detailed look at every cow, calf, and bull to be sure they are healthy. Dave is an executive who is responsible for managing a vast and complicated business.

When the branding is done for the day and the cattle have been turned back onto the range, everyone makes their way to the chuckwagon where there are tubs of ice, soda, Gatorade and a wagonload of beer. While the Cowboys are sittin’ around tellin’ stories, the cook will bring out plates piled high with calf fries, which are of course, the nuts that were cut off that very day. It’s pretty much the same as going to your local bar or restaurant for happy hour, other that we’re sittin’ on bedrolls rather than barstools, there isn’t any primpin’ going except for dunking your head in the horse tank to wash up, most city bars don’t serve fresh calf fries, and instead of a sweet cocktail waitress we get the camp “hood.”