Confluence Chronicles – Where City & County Meet 5-3-10 |

Confluence Chronicles – Where City & County Meet 5-3-10

Although the calendar reminds us we are no longer living in the Old West of the 1800s and early 1900s, vestiges of the past are still in use. The contrasts may not be as vast as one would imagine.

It is true there is no open range, but anyone with commonsense brands their cattle. Why? It might surprise you to know that cattle rustling is alive and well, is even on the rise in the past couple of years. Brands show legal ownership and that comes in handy when cattle are stolen and taken to a sale barn. Unbranded cattle, called slicks, used to be the easiest to steal and that hasn’t changed either.

Cattle may still be gathered by horses, as in the old days, but they are just as likely to be herded by all-terrain vehicles with four wheels instead of four legs, and multiple horse power as opposed to one horse power.

Calving continues to be labor intensive and is hands-on work when a cow has difficulties. No robot can handle the situation. The job cannot be outsourced. It cannot be done by a person who simply owns a ranch and calls himself a rancher, yet rarely even sees the place, much less does any actual ranch work. It takes an honest-to-goodness rancher at the site to do the job and that fact is a as true now as it has always been.

Even ranchers who run cattle on federal lands are accused of misusing “public” lands. There are those who complain that ranchers should not be allowed to have their cattle in these places. They speak of the wildlife and say the cattle intrude. The funny thing is, most of these lands are in arid areas. The federal lands have WPA-built stock dams which depend on rain and runoff; arid places do not receive much of either most years. The ranchers should be given credit for paying for and installing water pipe lines and tanks throughout these grazing areas, but they are not. Think of it this way. The wildlife wouldn’t be able to remain in these areas if they didn’t have the water systems installed by the ranchers. Requiring water for survival is as old as the hills, it is the delivery systems which have changed. Ranchers should be thanked for providing this amenity or at least should not be maligned.

In the old days there were wars between sheep herders and ranchers. Now ranchers who live and work out away from cities due to their love of the land and lifestyle are under attack from those who have not a clue of the reality of the situation. Ranchers are reaching out to the public, encouraging them to ask questions and even visit ranches. The ranchers hope these same people will take advantage of the invitations to listen and learn in the process.

It may be a challenge, but it will be terrific to spend time together.

Peggy writes from the family ranch in southwestern South Dakota. Her email is

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