Ranchers need help. They need lots of help. Top of the list of needs is extra cowboys to get the cattle work done in the spring and fall. Branding in the spring and shipping in the fall become top priority and must be done ranch wide in a day or two on some outfits or in weeks on the really big places. For that extra manpower, they call on their neighbors.
It’s called “neighboring.” Your neighbors come help you get your work done and then you go help them when they work their herd. A couple months on the calendar will quickly fill up with “working” dates as neighboring ranches try to schedule their work so no one is using the same help on the same days.
Some ranches use “day workers”—cowboys who hire out with or without their horses for a day’s work at a ranch. They get paid by the day with the going rate varying from $75-$150 a day but it’s not a get-rich-quick kind of job. Many times the average per hour will figure out to be about the price of a candy bar.
Day wages times 8 or 10 extra cowboys add up real quick and it is just too costly for most ranches. That’s why and where neighboring was born. Sharing the work and saving the dollars. It’s a hard-working social event for the cowboys and the only pay of the day will be the dinner they eat or maybe the cold beer they’ll be offered.
Neighbors out in ranch country are pretty helpful. They’ll drive the 20-or-so miles (or more, depending) of dirt road in the dark of night to help you out of a jam with anything. They’ll stay all night helping you pull a well. They’ll fetch parts in town, help you mechanic on equipment, or pick up your mail if you need them to do that.
Good deeds follow neighbors. One neighbor saw a stock trailer broke down along the highway and recognized it. The owner had been in a hurry to get to a cattle working, wheel bearing went out on the trailer, so he unhooked it and left it to get where he needed to be on time. His good neighbor tied up an axle, pulled the trailer back to the owner’s ranch and parked it for him.
That good deed kept vandals from working the trailer over alongside the road. When the owner came back that night he was sure someone had stolen it until he got home and saw it parked next to his barn.
An acquaintance of mine living out east of a city in a “ranchette” rural area complained that she may as well move to town. Her neighbors are close enough she can hear their music and she has to pull the drapes in her house for privacy. But last winter when the road was bad and she got stuck, she had no one to help her. Not the friendly, helpful sort of neighbors she was raised around. She is lonely in a crowd of “neighbors.”
It’s hard to explain to city dwellers the peace that comes in not hearing sirens, car engines, the pounding vibration from a car stereo, kids on bicycles and barking dogs three blocks away. But it’s even harder to explain how much fun 15-hour days of hard work in all kinds of weather with a meal as the paycheck can be. I guess you had to have been there.
The cattle trucks are rattling up and down the roads in great numbers. It makes me smile knowing all that it took to give them a job. Happy fall ya’all and neighbors too!
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.