Someone recently bought a large cattle ranch in our area. “Large” as in several thousand acres. The new owner (about whom I know absolutely nothing with the exception of what I’m writing here) has publicly stated that he does not want horses on the place. He apparently feels ATVs/4-wheelers/quads are better than horses. I don’t know how the ranch hands feel about it and I don’t know why he would hold this opinion. However, I think it’s short-sighted, for several reasons.
For those of you who don’t know much about ranching, let me give you a thumbnail sketch. A typical cattle ranch has cows, calves and bulls. Around here, calves are primarily born in late winter and very early spring. While some ranchers keep them close in smaller pastures during calving season, many run their cows on winter pastures that are hundreds if not thousands of acres. Older calves must be gathered and brought to corrals to be branded or tattooed and vaccinated. Ranch hands place ear tags to promote easy identification and castrate bull calves. In the fall, most of these calves are gathered and shipped to market. The rancher may keep some replacement heifers to raise succeeding generations. In some cases, ranchers will also ship their animals to the high mountain pastures for summer grazing. Ranch hands spend a fair amount of time checking on, doctoring, midwifing, gathering and moving cattle of various ages.
Historically, all of these activities involved the use of horses. Many ranchers also use cattle dogs. With the advent of the ATV, it has become common for ranch hands to tool around on these small 4-wheel drive vehicles. An ATV has some advantages over a horse:
However, horses have some significant advantages over an ATV:
In the long run, I think the best answer is to use both. If I’m irrigating, running down on an ATV is quick and easy. I can pop the shovel on the front and get around easily in the pasture. But for gathering cattle, especially in large areas full of rocks, gullies, dense brush and steep climbs, horses win hooves down.