Agriculture has to be one of the most unpredictable occupations in the country. Things happen. Markets fluctuate; diseases strike crops and livestock; drought destroys production; hail wipes out a year’s work in a matter of minutes. Accidents cause serious injury to farmers and ranchers.
And much of the uncertainty that’s endemic to agriculture is beyond human control.
No one expected, for instance, that a late December blizzard would dump nearly a foot of snow on the Texas High Plains and scatter cattle across the region. Some estimates put wandering cattle numbers in the thousands of head. Many perished in the harsh winter weather.
But not nearly as many died as would have had it not been for one thing that is as predictable among farm and ranch families as the certainty of tomorrow’s sunrise.
When word got out that cattle were missing folks saddled up, literally saddled up, and started looking for strays, rounding them up and moving them to safe pens until they could be returned to their owners. Those of us who work with farmers and ranchers on a regular basis are not the least bit surprised. It’s part of the culture. When a farmer is sick or injured at harvest time, his neighbors bring in the crop. When the cows are out, they round them up and bring them home. When people need a hand, hands are available.
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They don’t it for praise; they don’t do it to build up favors; they certainly don’t do it in hopes of getting paid. They do it because it’s right. It’s who they are.
My good friend Shelia Grissom, Seminole, Texas, posted a few photos on Facebook recently, and explained how her daughter Chloe and several other friends and neighbors saw some cattle that had strayed near their home. So they saddled their horses and began a cattle drive that lasted several days, is likely still in process in some areas. She shared these photos and her description of what happened over the next week.
“Ron, these were not even our cattle,” Shelia says. “We were fortunate that ours stayed in. We found about 30 head across the street from our house at the shop. We started trying to find out who they belonged to. From there it just got larger and larger. Chloe has been helping every day on horseback. Most of these days it has not gotten above freezing. They have been relentless looking for these cattle. Ages of the riders range from the teens on up.
“People who did not know each other banded together to search and rescue someone else's cattle. It has been a week today (Monday). They have been in the saddle from sunup to past dark. Many of these days we had no sun. Wind chills are almost unbearable with freezing fog, snow and drizzle. They have ridden through snow drifts 3 to 4 feet high. Horses have fallen through the snow into gopher holes, coming up injured and bleeding. They go on.”
She says cattle probably scattered because of damage from “the relentless storm. Fences gave way, snow drifts got high. The cattle instinct is to seek shelter. The volunteers have rounded up cattle all over Gaines County.
“At one time there were six or seven different bunches on horseback. People were so generous to open their pens to hold cattle. They would bring these cattle down the county roads, meet up with another bunch and take them to a holding pen. At one time the Sheriff’s Department assisted while they gathered some from Gaines County Park.”
Shelia says she, her husband Jimbo, and son Jeramie helped by blocking county roads so they could move cattle. “Dogs would chase them and the cattle would take off and they would start over.
“We brought riders coffee, donuts and kaloches. The food would be cold by the time we got to them, but they did not care. They were so, so cold and so thankful. Many days they went without anything until day’s end.
“We had reports that one man was missing 2,000 head and another 4,000. One day I believe they rounded up 60—one day about 200 and another day about 700.” She says one neighbor had many strays and found seven “leaned up against a cotton module frozen. Day before yesterday they brought in a helicopter to search.
“I guess if there is anything I could share having witnessed this and being an American farmer is that this is the story of America's backbone that is never heard. Farmers, dairy farmers and ranchers are being forced out of business at alarming speeds and there is no one to tell these stories. These are the people who feed and clothe the very ones who are either taking us down or ridiculing us. They are just not getting it! I know I am not telling you anything you don't already know.”
Editors’ note: I can’t tell this story as well as Shelia does. And the photographs she shares are vivid descriptions of how harsh conditions can be in the High Plains and of the sacrifices men and young women like Chloe will make to protect animals and help each other. It is a privilege to call these folks friends.
Thanks to Shelia Grissom for the photos. "Chloe shot many of them," she says.