The Cowhand Then and Now
Then Now

An outfit's work place was called the range. In the mid-1800s the range did not have fences, but by the late 1800s and early 1900s fences were the norm.

An outfit's work place is called a ranch, which has fences around its borders.

Main focus: the cow.

Main focus: the cow.

Cowhands love animals, the outdoors, and hard work.

Cowhands love animals, the outdoors, and hard work.

Technology: Horse, rope, and cow sense.

Technology: Computer with specialized programs for ranch management. Cowhands are often college educated. Antibiotics and other vaccinations have eradicated many diseases and infections that killed cattle in the past.

Clothing was functional. The cowhand’s ensemble included brown jeans, collarless work shirt, vest (for pockets), boots, cowboy hat, spurs, handkerchief, and rain slicker.

Clothing is still functional. Instead of a cowboy hat for work, the baseball cap is preferred. Many of these are “giveaways” from businesses. Vests are used for warmth. Jeans are blue and shirts have collars and pockets.

Socializing, storytelling, and conversation between comrades.

Socializing, storytelling, and conversations between comrades.

Food: Coffee, beans, slow belly, biscuits, sometimes pies and other treats like pickles.

Food: Iced tea, beef, bread, beans, and whatever else the ranch has on hand. There is greater accessibility to a wider variety of food than in the past.

The moving and working of cattle is done from the back of a horse.

The moving and working of cattle can be completed from the back of a four-wheeler. Cattle are transported by pickup truck and semitrailer rather than walking them. However, many ranches still round up and trail cattle from horseback. Sometimes helicopters are used to round up and check cattle.

Seasonal Work

Seasonal Work

Spring roundups: work cattle, brand, dehorn, and castrate new calves. Cut beeves out of herd.

Spring roundups: work cattle, brand, dehorn, and castrate new calves. May inoculate them. Transport to pasture (seeded wheat field or range) or feedlot.

Summer trail drive: drive cattle to rail head or market. Sell cattle by the head.

Summer work: ride pastures and repair barbed wire or electric fences. Check windmills, water holes, doctor cattle, spray for ticks and flies. Put up hay.

Fall roundups: work cattle and brand, dehorn, and castrate new calves born during the summer.

Fall roundups: work cattle, brand new calves. Sell those ready to be sold and move others to winter pasture. Those sold may be sold by weight (not head) at the market, to a feedlot, or on the ranch.

Winter work: ride the line and protect the property of the outfit/ranch.

Winter work: continuation of summer work. It revolves around checking the cattle, doctoring, and preparing for the new season. Stock shows happen in the winter.

Heat for branding iron is provided by wood fire.

Heat for branding iron is provided by propane stove.

Remuda is kept in rope corral. It is expected that each cowhand will use two to three mounts per day during the trail drive and roundup.

Portable corral panels made of lightweight tube steel are transported by pickup truck to where the cattle and horses are located. Extra horses are housed inside these panels until needed. The panels may also be used to separate calves during castrating, dehorning, and inoculating.

Cowhands were usually single young men in their early twenties. Seldom did they have a family or wife.

Cowhands are any age. Many work at being a cowhand until they retire or die; they marry and raise families on the ranch. Many are women. Oftentimes the spouse of the cowhand has a job in town or may work with the cowhand on the ranch.

The Cowhand Then and Now lesson plan