Life is unpredictable and you never know what may be coming next; that was our motto as we packed up and headed on our first cattle drive.
There were six of us from Inukshuk Farm who booked this cattle drive weekend in January 2020, not knowing it would take eighteen months, due to Covid-19, for our booking to materialize.
We did not know what to expect when we arrived at the cattle ranch in Mulmur, Ontario. What we did know was that we “cowgirls” were about to realize a dream, driving a herd of cattle down roads, through wooded trails and across the grasslands. What we didn’t know was how to do it!
There are not many working cattle operations in southern Ontario that are still managed only from horseback. The Peace Valley Ranch land is rugged, the scenery is beautiful and the altitude is the highest in the province. The Black Hills offer steep slopes of the escarpment and views that are unparalleled in the County. At one lookout we were pretty certain we could see Peterborough, Ontario – well, almost!
And so, our cattle drive adventure began with a pre-ride to match each rider to a horse, and do a two-hour test ride up and down the steep hills, across the grassy fields, down the adjacent roads, and to check out the places where the cattle drive would take place the following day. Any problems that arose were to be addressed prior to driving the real herd of 60 Black Angus cattle, including cows, calves and a very large Angus bull, from one ranch to another. The task included a two-hour trip to where the cattle were grazing, driving them back to the ranch, separating the bull and then driving the herd of cows and calves to a new grazing pasture for the remaining months of summer. There was excitement in the air as our group settled in for a short night’s sleep, preparing for an 8:30 a.m. start, saddling horses and heading off on a two-hour ride through the forested and hill areas leading to the south ranch.
On arrival at the south ranch, the herd of cattle were resting under trees but immediately started calling to their calves as they knew the arrival of eleven horses and riders meant a change was coming! All our riders had a short break under the trees including some stretching, drinking water from our saddlebags and quick trips behind large trees, before mounting up again and beginning the excitement for which we had come.
Each rider was given a position with the herd. The Point men (or women) are the riders near the front of the herd – they determine the direction, control the speed, and give the cattle something to follow. The Swing riders ride closely along each side of the herd. Their responsibility is to keep the herd together, and watch for any animals that might try to break away. They also back up the Point riders as the herd turns – in our case this was necessary many times as we guided the cattle down roads, turning often as we trekked our way back to the ranch. The Flank riders ride each side of the herd, near the rear and their role is to back up the Swing riders and keep the cattle bunched, not allowing the herd to get fanned out; this could create two herds which would be much harder to control! Drag riders’ position is behind the herd to keep it moving, pushing the slower animals forward.
Will we do this again? Perhaps. Our dreams are getting bigger and may include a larger ranch in western Canada with a few more days to, “Keep them doggies movin”, Rawhide!
Submitted by Janice Ecclestone, Inukshuk Farm