The other evening I viewed a thrilling clip of the beginning of a cattle drive. It was an exciting scene- the beginning of a long drive portending inevitable drama up the trail. The initiation of the drive was full of cowboy yelling, waving of hats, brandishing of ropes, and kicking up of dust as riders on their horses cut back and forth behind a slow to move herd.
Several days later I witnessed an interaction between my cows and horses that gave me a slightly different perspective on this seminal moment in a cattle drive and suggested the true motivation for the cattle to head out. It played out this way:
Because of diminishing pasture this time of year (late February), the cattle and our two horses share a pasture. This is something I try to avoid in deference to the horses, because the cattle make such a mess.
I scooped horse pellets into the horse trough. Several cows and the bull, sensing an extra feeding opportunity, hurried to the trough and began to chow down. I was singularly unsuccessful in running them off or protecting the horses’ rations. I waved my arms and bellowed threateningly at the cattle but to no avail. They basically ignored me.
Not long thereafter the horses arrived. The horses quickly went to work intimidating the cows and bull and ran them away from the trough. The horses did this by prancing, snorting and throwing their heads. All this acting out seemed to frighten the cattle. Now keep in mind the bull weighs well over 2000 pounds and the horses in the 900-1100 range. Shouldn’t size make a difference here?
The takeaway message for me is this; horses for whatever reason dominate cattle. I suppose it is a “pecking order” of long evolutionary standing.
Now I suspect the cowboys’ waving of hats and yelling in the film played a limited role in herding the cattle. The horses underneath the cowboys likely provided the major motivation for the cattle to stop grazing, turn around,
and begin moving toward the long, dusty cow trail.