Cows like wide open spaces, with lots of grass. They do not like to be penned, unless they are dairy cows that need to be milked. Then they will fight to get into the milk parlor, because they need some relief. Beef cattle, however, must be penned ever so often so they can be doctored and wormed. Before you can get them to the pens, you must get through the gates.
You and your crew spread out across a pasture and start to move the cows toward the gate that leads to where you want them to go - to the pens. Four tools are at your disposal to motivate cows to go through the gate.
The first is your horse. Horses are superior to four-wheelers when it comes to working cows, because horses have a brain of their own. If a bull charges you, the horse thinks faster than you do and gets out of the way. A four-wheeler just idles while your brain runs through options. Many-a-time I have ridden up on a cow and she would just stare at you. I’d ease my horse around and holler at her. If she didn’t move, I’d spur my horse to go right up against her to get her to move toward the gate. Most of the time, it works. When it doesn’t, you go to the next tool.
The second tool available to you is your bull-whip. Though called a bull-whip, it was used for any reluctant animal. A bull whip is made of leather straps, woven together. When swung properly, it makes a loud “crack.” The noise is what scares the cattle and they move away from it. If your brother ever offers to practice how close his bull-whip can get to you without hitting you, decline quickly and run decisively in the other direction.
The third tool available to the cow-hand is the rope. My grandfather Oscar, my uncles Pete and Bud were great ropers (Uncle Bud still competes on the senior rodeo circuit at age 83). None of this genetic gift passed to me. My only success in roping a cow is when the cow is down and I can loop the rope over her head. I’ve done this a few times. You ease your horse off and put tension on the rope. The cow will either: get up and start to follow; lay there as you drag her a few feet; or suddenly spring to life and run out ahead of you until the rope jerks her back. Inevitably the cow you must rope is furthest from the pens. It’s hard to drag a cow half-a-mile. This is when the fourth tool comes into play.
The final tool available is a good cow dog. A good cow dog will bark at the cow and the cow will move in the direction you want her to go. A good cow dog will nip, not bite. A good cow dog will save time, move cattle well, and make your work easy. The problem is there aren’t many good cow dogs. We’ve had several hands that have brought their dogs to “help.” The dogs did help; they helped scatter the cows from here to kingdom come. I’ll never forget one dog who successfully chased a bunch of cows through two fences all the way into a cousin’s pasture. He was very proud of himself. We spent the rest of the day chasing cows and fixing fence while the dog took a nice nap in the shade.
There is a great line from the movie, Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Life would be much easier for a cow-hand if we could simply communicate with the cows: “Would you mind ambling over through that gate over there? We’re going to make you uncomfortably crowded, then squeeze you and give you a shot. And if you are a male and under a year-old, we are going to remove your ability to reproduce. If you are the right size, we are going to load you on a trailer and take you off to get fatter, then turn you into hamburger. Thank you for your cooperation.” Maybe we’re communicating better than we think and that’s why the cows refuse to go through the gate.
I’ve heard my father plead for cattle to go through a gate: “Please, please, please go through the gate.” I myself have prayed for divine intervention, for the cows to see the logic of going through the gate to get where I want them to go.
Jesus said there is a wide gate that is inviting, but it leads to the slaughterhouse. There is also a narrow gate, he said, that leads to life. Go through the narrow gate. God will not push you to go through. He will not crack a whip over you or rope you and drag you through it. Nor will God sic the dogs on you. He will tell you of his love, his gift of grace, and his eternal home. He invites you to share all these good things with him, if you will just go through the gate.