CATTLE CALL; Not Far from Suburban Sprawl, Riding the Herd Is Still a Way of Life

By Bull, Roger | The Florida Times Union, May 24, 2004 | Go to article overview

CATTLE CALL; Not Far from Suburban Sprawl, Riding the Herd Is Still a Way of Life


Bull, Roger, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Roger Bull, The Times-Union

GREEN COVE SPRINGS -- If the powerlines weren't there, it could have been a scene from 100 years ago. White butterflies hunted over the yellow flowers for nectar while horsemen crossed the pasture to bring in the cattle. About 500 head, a mix of Braford, Brangus and Beefmaster, were out in the open field and under the scattered oak trees.

But as soon as the horsemen approached, the cattle seemed to know the drill. They quickly became a herd and moved through the trees and gate, down the road. The cowboys popped their whips from time to time, cracking the air like a .22, just to remind the cattle that they were still there and to keep moving.

It was a roundup, a good old-fashioned cattle roundup on the edge of Green Cove Springs, not far from the sprawl that is turning Fleming Island into lawn and parking lot.

The cattle belong to Jim Farley, and he was there, leading the roundup. His sons were with him, along with his other help. They pushed the cattle down the road to the holding pen. There was plenty of grumbling moos, though, especially when they got to the pen. That's a cow's lot: standing and mooing, just to register a complaint about the situation.

And once the cattle gathered in the pen, the cowboys got to work. They were dressed in basic cowboy attire: jeans, boots, hats and long-sleeved shirts. But they were packing cell phones on their hips.

"These boys all know their jobs," Farley said. "You don't gotta say, 'Now, you do this, you do that.' "

The cattle were broken into smaller groups and run through a chute. Josh Farley, 23, steered them through one at a time, slapping and poking them along with a palmetto frond.

They were all sprayed with fly repellent. The black horn flies were thick on their backs.

"They'll cost you a pound a day on a calf," Jim Farley said. "Let it go for two months and you'll sell a 60-pound lighter calf."

Those with rough coats that indicate the presence of worms got a spray for that, too. And at the end of the chute, Farley pointed this way and that, and Jerry Padgett Jr., the ranch foreman, worked the gates with hands and feet, sending the cattle in five possible directions, separating adult cows, bulls, older calves, younger unworked calves and the injured cows.

"If you try to sort them out in the pen," Farley said, "they'll beat you to death."

There's nothing pretty about any of the pens. It's a utilitarian place of work, hammered together with both good wood and scrap. Beaten by the weather and cattle that run through it, kicking and slamming up against it.

Because some go easily, some do not.

When one bull -- about 1,800 pounds, Farley estimated -- didn't want to go through the chute . . . well, there is not much you can do about it. When he wanted to back up, they just let him go. And he stood off to the side, his head in the corner.

"He's just sullen," Josh said. "He's pouting. Another bull might have whupped or something."

Eventually, the pens will go high tech. The concern over mad cow disease has prompted regulations that will require careful tracking of each calf, each cow.

A button will be placed on each animal's ear, and an electronic scanner will read it as it goes through the chute.

"Let me tell you something about the cattle industry," Farley said. "The cattle industry started adjusting 400 years ago when Ponce de Leon unloaded the first cattle."

Farley, 55, is in an age group that grew up when cowboys were kings on screens large and small. A generation of boys practiced their draw in front of the mirror and went to sleep at night beneath Roy Rogers bedspreads, dreaming of the open range.

But Farley didn't come to cattle through the Western. They were always a part of his life as he grew up in Green Cove Springs. His father was in the Navy, but his grandfather ran cattle up on the Florida-Georgia line. …

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