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Cattle Ranchers | Marfa, Texas

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.

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At the Aufdengarten home

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The family dog.

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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.

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Ashley’s failed GoPro horse cam.

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Aiding one of the cattle as it gets into trouble.

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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.

Ashley and I documenting our morning.

8 Comments

  • michele Says

    most people are starting to see how uncivilized the whole process is of traumatizing innocent animals. i for one have matured to not include beef in my diet. it is just the humane, adult, way to live. there is such a variety of food is more healthy, tastes better, and out bodies bette equipeted. hope u all have heart disease at 50

  • Peggy Simpson Says

    Hi, I’m Ellery Aufdengarten’s sister from Nebraska. I got to see the video last week at Ellery’s. I think you did a fantastic job with the video and at the time my son, Wyatt was helping Ellery and was in the video, also. I feel you portrayed my family’s cowboy way of life so well and also the dire situation that the Texas rancher is faced with. I pray every day that the rains will start and the drought will come to an end. It will be a great day when Ellery can have his cows shipped back to the ranch.

  • Charles Sorrels Says

    I am a friend from El Reno of Kari, when she was a child my Mom babsat her, and our whole family fell in love with her and Brad. Jim and Loretta Chancellor are retired ranchers (they sold their 55,000 acre Colorado Springs area ranch three years ago. I look forward to sharing this with them, it is fascinating.
    Greetings Kari!!! Great project, I have just seen the still photos and read some of the notes, will be back to delve into it all.
    Charles Dale Sorrels
    719-593-8844
    Colorado Springs, Colorado

  • ellery aufdengarten Says

    Chris.

    I really enjoyed your film, what a great job. I appreciated your comments about your experience at the ranch. It`s refreshing to here and see
    positive feedback about the farming and ranching industries. Thank you, you`re always welcome at our home.

    Sincerely,

    Ellery Aufdengarten
    Aufdengarten Cattle Co

    • Chris Says

      Thank you as well Ellery, to you and your family for sharing your home and tradition with us. It was a pleasure and an honor.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

      • Kathie Easterling Says

        Chris, Ellery called me this AM and told me about your video and web site. I work for the Bouzidens in Alva, the purple truck was one of ours and the cattle came to us. We have worked with Ellery for what seems like years and years (he’s a great guy!) Anyway my boss Steve, Paul(the truck driver) one of our cowboys(who has helped with roundups there before) watched them all…..really enjoyed!!! I’ve never been to the ranch, hope to one day. Congrats on a job very well done.

  • Thanks for this first hand account of the herding process. My grandpa grew up on a cattle ranch in Texas and I remember him telling me stories about this time. It was always his favorite time of the year. Of course, as a young boy, his favorite part was always crossing the road to the cattle pens. He was a bit reckless sometimes. But it made for some great stories he could tell.

    • Chris Says

      Yes, I found the whole process incredible. Despite being a part of it for only a few hours, one could tell how rich in tradition the process, the people, and the land were. One of the things on my proverbial “bucket list” was to experience “Texas” someday. Wasn’t sure how exactly, but after the morning with this family, I felt I had.

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