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Gussie Keetch Salem Hills High School Nebo District gus.keetch@hotmail.com Traditional Vaquero Stockmanship VS. Modern Handling Techniques I chose to address the contradiction between using traditional vaquero stockmanship techniques versus modern stock handling techniques. Understanding that there are positives and negatives to both systems, I will point out both view points throughout this essay. I have many personal experiences with both procedures. I personally favor vaquero stockmanship. Using modern stock handling techniques, I have used gadgets such as Nordforks, squeeze chutes and calf tables as well as "hospitals", often referred to as the "tub" or "snake". The kinds of gear used also include rubber on saddle horns, tie-downs, correction bits, "roping reins" and neoprene cinches and saddle pads. While practicing vaquero traditions, I have used the "hospitals" although the majority of the doctoring that is usually done is gone about less stressfully on the range where the animal can go straight back to its herd and/or mother. Vaquero gear used includes; rawhide hondos, 100% mohair cinches, wool saddle pads, custom saddles, hackamores, spade and curb bits. Generally, the men that practice these traditions are called "buckaroos". Much of their gear is custom, more expensive and better on stock, horses and cattle alike. These buckaroos usually carry ropes that can range anywhere from 40 feet to 60 and sometimes 70 feet long. Modern handling generally is rougher on stock, although the techniques used can be done in a quieter manner; most of what I see done is hard and fast. This causes unneeded stress on cattle, resulting in lowered weights and less money made for the boss man. The objective of the game is to have the highest weighted cattle, get the most money for them per pound and come out on top. This is less possible if animals are jerked around, ran and handled roughly. Many of the mishaps that I see are unintentional and it is usually because of a lack of knowledge. For instance, at a branding set up to use a Nordfork (a device with a U-shaped fork that is placed on the top of the neck of a calf while it is roped by its back feet), a cowboy rides into the herd of calves that are usually separated from their mothers. (Separation causes more stress for calves and mothers on top of being handled in general.) The cowboy picks one out and lays a trap with his rope picking up two heels, he then dallies off to his saddle horn and turns and rides toward the fire. Dragging calves by only their back feet is rough on their little bodies, their hides and hind legs. Most of the wear and tear on them can be avoided by watching carefully what kind of ground you are on when you brand; if you are in rocky ground, it will be rougher but on sandy ground it will be much better on calves. If the game is to be good on your cattle, then you would brand on sandy ground. Here is where I find another problem lies; dragging calves in sandy ground is hard on your horses, you can wear out three horses to one compared to heading and heeling. An average size for a branding is anywhere from seventy-five to two hundred calves. If you are branding say one hundred and fifty calves, you are going to need a lot of horses to just hold up to as much work as it is going to be to brand wiht a Nordfork. Dragging calves in deep sand by their heels is more difficult because you cannot utilize the calf's momentum which causes a lot more effort needed on your horse's end of the deal. I have personally seen, heard of and even owned horses that have been soured by "snag and drag"(slang term for Nordfork brandings.)


Traditional stock handling, done correctly, is slow work with a mind to utilize an animal's thought process. When you are going to work any cattle using traditional methods, the angle you take is to try to cause the least amount of stress as possible. The practices used to ensure this are handling cattle slowly, letting the animal think they are getting away as a means to get them where you want them to go. A popular misinterpretation is seeing people who wear all of the right gear to be seen and classified as a buckaroo while "ram and jamming" cattle and horses around which as stated, is not how the traditional vaqueros did things. If they are running cattle for an unnecessary reason, that is not vaquero. In my personal experiences, one of the big differences between vaquero stockmanship and modern stockmanship is the thought for your fellow hands and animals. There seems to be a more general sense of care and love for the lifestyle, horses, dogs and cattle. In a modern set up, the most common thought process seems to be “jerk and spur.” And “first come, first serve.” For instance, say you are doctoring cattle at a feedlot. You have your yearlings set up in a fence corner ready to rope and doctor. With more modern techniques, you will see two to three ropers run in, chase the already sick or injured animal, throw a rope on him, possibly choke him out in the process of trying to get him heeled and then just stick a needle in him and let him up. Using vaquero handling techniques, would be more commonly seen is; the buckaroos talking it over with each other. They would designate a "header" and a "heeler", while the rest held the rodear (herd.) The header would then go in slowly, trying ot disrupt the herd as little as possible and rope the sick animal from a distance without running the animal at all. A heeler would come in, heel the animal and lay it down as quietly as possible then some one would come "work ground." Working ground is simply one of the buckaroos who did not rope would dismount and come doctor the animal. In conclusion, I prefer using traditional vaquero stock handling techniques. My prejudice is not meant to sound harsh, I don't think that modern techniques are cruel, I just see that there are better ways and that if more cowboys were willing to learn, the lifestyle would come a long way as a whole. I don’t just prefer vaquero ways because it is what my Daddy taught me, but because there is a lot of knowledge and facts that support it. Quite honestly, the better stock is handled, the better the beef, the better the beef, the better the steak and we all love a good steak.

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