Feedyard horses encounter conditions, commotion and cattle.

Feedyard horses encounter conditions, commotion and cattle.

Rain, snow, sleet or hail, the cattle's needs always prevail. Journal photo.

From America’s Horse

Feedyard horses are like mailmen – nothing keeps them from making their appointed rounds.

At any given moment, there are around 11 million cattle on feed nationwide being pampered so they’ll make consumers the tastiest hamburgers, roasts and steaks. Feedyard horses spend most of their time patrolling pens while their Wrangler-clad riders scout for and doctor sick or injured cattle. The rest of the time, they’re moving critters from one pen to another. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night keeps these sentries from taking care of cattle.

Working here is anything but glamorous. It’s a mundane, routine chore. Besides that, there’s a lot of commotion – slamming gates on semi-trucks, the grinding gears of feed trucks and that annoying “beep-beep-beep” of backing trucks and tractors. The horses become acclimated to the noise and extremes.

In the summer, it’s hot enough to fry a steak; there are no snow days in the winter – after all, cattle still have to be fed. Some days, the dust and odor (cattlemen say it smells like money) make you want to strap on an oxygen mask.

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The cowboys clock in before dawn and might not hang up their saddles till after sundown. They either bring their own mounts or the yard supplies them.

These horses need to know the basics – stop, back, turn around, sidepass – to be able to open and close gates, quietly sort a single steer from a pen of 75 head or push a load of cattle down an alleyway. They can be up to their fetlocks in mud and manure or trodding on ground as hard as concrete.

“It’s asking a lot of a 2- or 3-year-old to do the kinds of things we expect,” says Kevin Dwyer, feedyard manager for Sellers Feeders of Lyons, Kansas. “You’ve got to have a horse that can stand getting poked in the ribs once in a while by a gate handle or steer and not come unglued.”

The perfect feedyard horse – durable, coarse, big-boned with big feet – won’t win any beauty contests.

“But they’re good-minded, they’re solid and they put up with a lot,” Kevin says.

It’s no place for a green-broke horse. Well, it used to be until horse-related workman’s compensation claims started piling up. Cowboys were getting hurt because they lacked good horsemanship skills or were using horses that didn’t have the basic abilities required to work in feedlot.

“These days, the guys that come to work in the feedyard are either good sick-cattle detectors or good horsemen, not both,” says Jerry Riemann, feedyard operations manager for Brookover Companies of Garden City, Kansas.

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Because of this, and to reduce workman’s comp claims, a lot of feedlot managers send their cowboys to special safety seminars to learn horsemanship principles and understand what’s safe and what’s not.

These days, the feedlot – formerly a factory for well-broke horses – has become a consumer of well-broke horses.

5 thoughts on “Weatherproof”

  1. I really enjoyed/appreciated this article on feedlot horses and their work. Coming from Ontario, this was quite an eye-opener!

  2. I sold a horse to a friend who was using the horse in a feedlot to rope and doctor cattle. Later he started taking the horse to jakepot ropings very weekend. After a few months of this, the horse refused to leave the roping chute and rope steers at the jakepots. In the feedlot he would rope all day long and did an excellent job, but at fast competitive roping he would not work. This I have seen several times with feedlot horses. They like to help the cowboys work cattle in feedlots because they see that what they are doing is necessary. But roping in an arena where you rope and then release the cattle without doing anything to them does not make sense so they get bored. Horses are smarter than people realize. This horse worked the feedlot for more than 10 years!

  3. I work in a cattle feedlot and yes, the horses must put up with alot – constant traffic – heavy machinery, loud noises, gate pins, endless deep mud/snow/cold and wind, tough cattle – just part of an oridinary day. Takes a special kind of horse, luck and a good horse person to turn a green horse into a useable safe partner.

  4. Feedlot cowboys and their mounts are the ‘real deal’in my experience. I did it. A good cowpony will take the work in it’s stride. A good cowboy will also take it in his/her stride. They are the professionals. No goofing off, no showing off, full attention to the job in hand and certainly no time to malinger. I learnt most of my cowboying caring for 10000 head in the feed pens plus truckloads coming in with cattle which were immediately branded, dehorned,castrated,innoculated and given vitamin shots. Additionally, finished stock ready for the markets had to be loaded on out going trucks. I have done all sorts of other cowboying but the feedlot horse taught me the most. Talk about noisy, how about adding low flying crop dusters in the desert day and night!

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