Events

Wanted: Cowboys for steady work!

May 21, 2007
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Cowboys are in short supply and high demand in this part of Texas.

Ive been in this business since 1970 and every year it has got harder to find good cowboys, said Leo Vermedahl, manager of the Carrizo Feeders. Hear an interview with Vermedahl.
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This feedlot operation has space for up to 34,000 head of cattle on 320 acres and should have six cowboys and one head cowboy, but are two cowboys short, Vermedahl said.

Even though Carrizo only has around 15,000 head of cattle now as high corn prices have lead to ranchers keeping their cattle on pastureland longer instead of at feedlost like this one in the Texas Panhandle – he dare not let any of his cowboys go.

I know that when business picks up again in the fall Ill need those cowboys here, he said. When it does pick up, it will be even harder to find cowboys.

This part of Texas has been beef country pretty much since it was first settled.

Take a drive along a country road and you may well end up finding the road blocked by a herd of cattle being moved either between pasturelands or feedlots by cowboys on horseback.

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The cowboy lifestyle has long been romanticized in westerns, but its no picnic and never has been.

The cowboys that work for Vermedahl start work at 6 a.m. tending to their horses they have three horses each, one for the morning, one for the afternoon and a spare then start tending to the cattle here. They are usually done by 5 p.m.

Cowboy6.jpgThe work includes treating new cattle that arrive for worms and respiratory diseases, plus giving them a vitamin shot when they arrive at the feedlot. Hear sounds of cattle being herded for treatment. Hear sounds of cattle being herded for treatment.
The wages unfortunately, do not match what young potential cowboys can make in larger towns or cities. A good wage for a cowboy is $20,000 a year, $30,000 for a head cowboy.

We cant compete with what they can make in the city, Vermedahl said.

One alternative source that companies like Carrizo Feeders is turning to now to become cowboys instead is Mexican immigrants, he added.

This is the best source of cowboys we have today, Vermedahl said.

James Kelleher adds: Here in this remote corner of Texas, early signs that the inflationary pressures ethanol is exerting on food prices is beginning to creep deeper into America’s food supply — and much closer to its culinary heart.

The reason? Cattle ranchers, who normally use feedlots like Carrizo to fatten up their herds for the last four months leading up to slaughter, are now keeping their animals out in pasture longer. The reason is simple: Adding a pound to any given cow costs ranchers about 45 cents on pasture land — compared with 75 cents a pound in the feedlot, which does its magic by feeding the cattle a mix that relies heavily on corn, as well as molasses and animal tallow.

So why not just cut corn out of the animals’ diet altogether? Impossible, Vermedahl says. “Americans just like the taste of corn-fed beef.”

He expects the business will lose money this month for the first time in the 11 years he’s worked there.

Photos: Nick Carey/James Kelleher

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