The herd first appeared as a cloud of dust coming from the northwest.
It would take another two hours for us to hear the cows mooing and the gauchos yipping and yelling.
In the tumult of the roundup, cows are separated from the calves. Both call out desperately until they are reunited.
Then they moo for other reasons — probably a general disgust with having been whipped by the gauchos and harassed by their dogs for the past three or four hours.
We didn’t join in driving the cattle this morning.
Gustavo, the new ranch foreman, politely asked us if we would mind giving up our horse to one of the gauchos.
We weren’t sure whether Gustavo thought he was doing us a favour…whether he really needed the horse…or whether he was worried for our safety.
Last year, he saw us fall off our horse while trying to stop a runaway bull. He wouldn’t want to see his boss trampled; it would slow down the whole process.
After the cows arrived at the corral, the cowboys — Gustavo, Samuel, Pedro, and Natalio — dismounted.
Pablo took the place of his brother José, whose wife, Sylvia, had to go back to the hospital for more tests. (She complained of a headache. And then, the right side of her body was paralysed. It didn’t sound good, but we await the medicos’ diagnosis.)
Pablo — a ‘chango’ — lasso in hand
We were all pleased to see Jorge drive up. He couldn’t resist the roundup. He had come to advise…but, soon, he had his work clothes on and a large hypodermic needle in his hand. He is retired, but he took charge of the vaccinations nonetheless.
Everyone had his job to do, including your editor.
The young boys — changos Samuel and Pablo — whirled their lassoes over the heads and yelled at the cattle…wading into the herd to drive them into the entrance to the manga.
The manga is a long funnel, built of high stone walls, where the cattle are compressed into a single file. This leads to the wooden chute, where a number of doors and yokes allow the cowboys to go to work on the animals one by one.
The cows ran around trying to avoid the entrance to the manga; they must have known that they wouldn’t like it when they got in.
A cloud of dust rose over the corral. And gradually, by groups of three or four, the animals went where they were supposed to go.
Then, the changos closed the gates, mounted onto the stone walls, and walked along the top, poking the cattle with long sticks to force them forward.
Samuel even had an electric cattle prod — the first one we’ve seen at the ranch.
When, finally, they got into the wooden chute, the gates were closed in front of them and behind them. The cows locked in place, Jorge administered a shot of anti-parasite vaccine.
Jorge (in the foreground) overseas the vaccinations
Geraldo (not one of our crew, but a man authorised by the government to oversee vaccinations) gave them an extra shot against brucellosis.
Gustavo wrestled with the calves, putting a piece of yellow plastic in their noses to prevent them from nursing from their mothers. Then he cut off the ends of some of the tails, which he must have judged either as ‘un-aesthetic’ or unhealthy.
We operated one of the gates…responding to the calls from Jorge — arriba or abajo (up or down) — depending on which direction they were to be sent.
The ones that went abajo would be sent back into the big valley they came from. The others would be marched up to the high valley at Compuel. We did not understand the selection process, but there was no time to discuss it.
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Dust, noise, and action
Opening and closing the gate would seem to be the easiest job around, but we soon realised that it came with its own responsibilities, dangers, and challenges.
‘Close the gate,’ Jorge would yell…giving us only a second or two to react.
Sometimes, it was too late. Once a cow — or worse, a bull — had his head past the gate, it was impossible to stop him. Now and then, a cow would be driven mad by the experience.
Your editor (stick in hand) at the gate of the ‘manga’
Your editor (stick in hand) at the gate of the ‘manga’
One, with horns, leapt at us from in front of the gate, trying to get over the wall and out of the manga. We jumped back in time to avoid being gored…but we stayed on our toes the rest of the day.
The whole scene was one of dust, noise, and action. The cowboys whipped, prodded, and lassoed — all the while yelling threats or encouragement to the cows.
The older gauchos delivered their medicine and made their judgments…always calling to one another over the mooing cattle and the general hullabaloo.
Occasionally, a calf would get trampled in the manga. The larger animals — including huge bulls — would walk over the poor little calf, leaving it for dead on the ground. Sometimes, the calves get trampled to death. But yesterday, both of the victims soon revived.
Each time, Gustavo jumped down to the ground, grabbed its head and held it up. Jorge was fast behind him. Needle in hand, he gave the calf a shot. Within a few seconds, the calf seemed to come back to its senses, struggling to its feet.
When the sun set, we had finished the work — processing 195 cows and 83 calves.
We’ll get another batch tomorrow. (And we’ll also take a peek at the ranch’s finances.)
For Markets and Money, Australia
Ed note: All images sourced in the above article are property of Bonner and Partners.
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