Cowpuncher Skill: Trailing The Cut

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

At the O RO Ranch in northern Arizona, the cow herd that resides on the west side is never moved. I mean, like, NEVER. The cows winter and calve outside, and natural boundaries are the primary method used to keep the cattle where they’re supposed to be. There are some fences, but the cattle aren’t rotated through pastures on a seasonal basis. Instead, they’re moved to the mountain country for the summer and back down to the flats for the winter via strategic salt block placement.

When it comes time to brand calves in the spring, the ROs pulls a wagon around the entire ranch to work each section of country. After each day’s branding, the cull animals are sorted out of the rodear while the rest of the gather is turned back out. Then, the cull cows and yearlings (called “the cut”) are trailed to the nearest set of corrals. This could be nearby, but usually it is a mile or two away from the rodear grounds. Note: Cowpunchers call the rodear a “holdup,” but we still don’t, because we are still buckaroos. We need a few more years of prowling through the cactus before we can say things like “holdup” and “prowling” and have it sound natural.

Here, the cut is being trailed from Palomino (the name of a water tank) to the Mahon Camp.

the cut

Mahon is the roughest, most remote cow camp in the state, possibly the nation. Once the cattle are at Mahon, they are held in the corrals until the wagon camp moves to the next camp. Then, they are trailed to camp and combined with that camp’s cut, until the cowboys are camped at a place accessible by truck and trailer and they can be hauled to headquarters.

Since the cattle aren’t accustomed to being moved very often, the cowboys keep them bunched tightly together for the short drive. There is one cowboy riding ahead of the herd, and another one up the hill. The cattle might break at any time and run through the rocks and cactus, so the guys keep a close eye on them.

The cowboys keep their ropes down and at the ready while trailing the cut. If one breaks from the bunch, the nearest cowboy will kick up and rope him as quickly as possible while the rest of the crew holds up the bunch. Wanna-be escapees must be caught ASAP, before they get too far away in the jagged rocks and steep hillsides covered with prickly pear and oak brush.

Getting the cut up and over the steep, rocky far side of Mahon Canyon can be tricky. But, the cowboys were able to keep them together (mostly) and they made it over the hard spot with all the cattle.

the cut

Here, Jim rides back to the cut after watching them make it over the top of the hill. Periodically, the cowboys will ride off from the bunch and go to a spot where cattle are likely to break. That way, they are in an opportune position in case they need to catch something.

the cut

They made it! Here, the cowboys dropped into the wagon camp at Mahon with the cut, then they put the cull cattle through a gate into a water lot.

the cut

Each day’s branding ended with trailing the cut to a set of corrals, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when all the cattle were put through the gate. Then it was time to unsaddle their horses and fill their plates under the cook tent.

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives on the O RO Ranch in northern Arizona with husband and their two small kids. To learn more, visit

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