Finally edited the cattle ranching footage I shot while in Marfa, Texas (attending a Barefoot Workshops project last August). When I was out there, I and a couple of workshop participants (Ashley McCue and Kari Branch) had a chance to visit The Aufdengartens, a family of ranchers who invited us to participate in the cattle herding and sorting process. It was a privilege to participate in such a long standing Texas family tradition, making it the highlight of our stay in Marfa.
We arrived at the Aufdengarten home before sunrise to saddle up and prep the horses before riding out to the pasture where the cattle were kept. With the help of a cattle dog, we led the cattle across the dry texas terrain, through their pasture, and down towards a gate near an open road. The riskiest part was walking the cattle out onto the open road towards a large holding pen. I had to film this part of the process from afar, sitting at the top of a hill, as any sudden movement could cause the herd to disperse, resulting in lost cattle (and lost $ revenue), or cause an accident if the cattle happened to cross paths with an oncoming car.
Upon arriving at the holding pens, the cattle were led through a maze of gates, eventually arriving at a long alley, with one of the ranchers standing above the pens on the opposite end. As the cattle traveled down the alley, the rancher would swing a gate to sort the cattle into 2 pens, separating the steers from the cows. The final step involved leading all the steers onto a truck, where they were sold and shipped off as beef.
It’s sad to witness the separation – for the next few days, the cows will long for the missing steers and look around for them – but a necessary step in the beef production process. Having witnessed the whole process, it was comforting to see the ranchers treat their cattle as humanely as they did, from responding quickly to any danger or discomfort the cattle might be experiencing, to being careful not to overcrowd the truck in order to ensure as comfortable a ride as possible.
Ashley’s failed GoPro horse cam.
Aiding one of the cattle as it gets into trouble.
An interesting detail to note is how badly the Texas droughts and wildfires last year have hit the ranching community. It was disturbing to learn the number of cattle that fit onto the 1 truck that drives off at the end of the film, would normally require at least 2 trucks in previous years. There’ve been a number of financial hardships for these families in 2011, causing many to have to thin their herds due to a shortage of grass, hay, and water. Hope 2012 proves to be a much kinder year for all of them.