Cattle Drive

Featuring: David Roth

Imagine an area roughly the size of Oxford in the UK, that gets only 300 mm of precipitation per year, covered in sparse vegetation of juniper trees, sagebrush and clumps of hardy grasses. Add in a mountain with an elevation of 1,984 metres at its highest point, and you will have a rough idea of the terrain of Pine Mountain in the High Desert of Central Oregon. It is 5 o’clock in the morning and the air temperature is around 10° celsius, although by lunchtime it could be as hot as 30°. Your mission at this location is to find and gather 200 cows grazing over an area of 40 km2 and move them to their next pasture. This was the task before us, Dave Roth’s assembled cattle drive crew, on the morning of August 13th 2023.

Caring for cattle has been Dave’s lifetime passion.  For the past 45 years, he has grazed cattle over vast areas of the Oregon High Desert.  Experience tells him that the cool of the morning is the best time to find the cows and so the first ‘gathering’ is of the horses and riders who will go out to find the cattle.

The trained eye looks for  black spots on the hillside and plumes of dust that arise from thudding feet in the soft, dry soil.  The occasional holler at just the right place to project the voice, so it echoes off the rocks, helps the cows hear the cowboy from a great distance.  They will often answer with a loud moo, betraying their location.  Sometimes the cows are ready to move to greener pastures and happily run in the right direction.  At other times they hide, not wanting to be disturbed, especially if they have a small calf at their side.

The cattle are gathered to the water troughs in the pasture they have been grazing for the past few weeks.  Once all the lines of cattle have converged, they are driven to the next pasture and held at the new water set for a period of time, allowing cows and calves to “mother up”, finding each other and understanding that this is their new home for the next few weeks.  

By noon it is all over. Cattle, horses, dogs and humans all catch their breath now the dust has settled, and have a much needed drink of cool, clear water.

Photographs: Anna Roth
Text: Katie Roth and Dan Roth
Latvian translation: Marta Štila

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