Texas – Been There

Learning the ropes on a Texas cattle ranch

A cowboy herds cattle on a Texas ranch. There are some 14 million head of beef cattle in Texas, making it the number one cattle breeding state in the US. The ranch culture predates independence, with the Spanish government encouraging cattle in the region from the early 1700s onwards.

Photo by Joseph McNally / Getty Images

Texas – Been There

Learning the ropes on a Texas cattle ranch

“Can you see the horizon?” asks Pat. “Well the boundaries of the ranch go on past that. Way past that.”

James Ellis
James Ellis Travel Writer

Pat Gleason is one of the head honchos at Cibalo Creek Ranch, an old hacienda on a working cattle ranch that has been converted into luxury accommodation. Nestled in the Chinati Mountains, the ranch sits on a vast 30,000 acres of rugged land, where only the hardiest cattle – Texas longhorn and American buffalo – roam. When you saddle up and head out, it becomes apparent just how vast 30,000 acres are. At this high bluff, the scarred earth seems to go on forever – a desolate space that is home to cacti and coyotes, rattlesnakes and horned toad lizards. Turkey vultures – or buzzards – ride the thermals above the valley.

It is corralling time on the ranch and one of the head cowboys, Bobby, takes me to a large paddock where a host of yearlings have been rounded up for branding. For the most part, the cattle are still rounded up on horseback and Bobby – a former rodeo star – is the man responsible for bringing them all in. He leads me into the middle of the paddock, each of us with a lasso in hand and one of the other workers slaps a calf hard on the ass. The slap seems to electrify the 200 or so cattle in the paddock and they begin to run around in a large circle, a mini stampede. Bobby fixes his eye on one, twirls the rope a couple of times and catches his prey. With a bound he springs over and ties its legs together to stop it from moving and the calf is taken for branding.

It is from these essential cowboy skills that rodeo springs. Ranch owners and ranch hands, struck by boredom in the wilderness would pitch up against each other in impromptu competitions where the main prize was bragging rights over a neighboring ranch.