The Modern Cowboy

9 Mar

Riding the range isn’t what it used to be. Fixing the barbed wire fencing, herding the cattle on horseback to fresh pastures and all those lariat moves. None of it, apparently, is of much use any more. Some time back I was reading a book about a rough country area in New Mexico where the largest landowner is Ted Turner. It was something of an eye opener.

They don’t need to keep repairing those miles of ‘bobwire’. They don’t need those fences at all now. The cattle have computer chips planted under the skin. Not only can the computer cowboy sitting in his office keep track of each individual beast. He can also set the electronic perimeter for the herd. He can move the goal posts when he wants to and make all the cattle move in any direction he desires. If on the ground inspection is required, the ability to fly a helicopter is more valuable than knowing how to fork a horse.

Where they run both cattle and sheep on the same grazing land, the technology now is so sophisticated, they can make the cattle surround the flock of sheep to protect them from coyotes and other predators. Such a combined group of animals is called – wait for it – a ‘flerd’.

Ted Turner owns more land than the state of Delaware and is, I believe, the largest landowner in the country. Much of this land is devoted to raising the American bison as a commercial alternative to normal cattle. In grazing terms, they are better for the environment and their meat is leaner. They have even crossed the two species to come up with the ‘beefalo’. But there is apparently a deeper dream behind the building of Turner’s Western empire. His ambition, fanciful as it may be, is to ride from Mexico to Canada entirely on his own land. I doubt that he is likely to succeed. But if he does, don’t you think that it will be a lonely journey? Probably not another horseman in sight along the trail. Maybe a drone or two.

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