As the “boss lady” of a small feed yard, I often moonlight as a cowboy. Particularly during the fall months, I spend at least half of my time cowboying. While some may think of fast horses and whooping noises when the term cowboy comes to mind, I think of purposeful movements and nonverbal communication. To me a cowboy is a caregiver.


The cowboy plays one of the most critical roles on a cattle farm. He sets the culture for all cattle-human interactions, as well as acting as the primary caregiver. Although cowboying involves a lot of physical labor, I enjoy that part of my job.

When I was a little girl, I used to sit in my room and dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Depending on the day, I settled on different professions but one constant in my dreams was the desire to make a difference in the world. Animals have always tugged at my heart, and I am more at home around them than people. In many ways, cowboying fulfills those childhood dreams as there is nothing more rewarding than working hard to ensure that God’s creatures can thrive.

Denke3April.jpgSo, what does a cowboy do on the Feed Yard Foodie farm?

  • Acclimate newly arrived cattle – teaching them to feel comfortable in the home pen as well as gaining their trust as a caregiver.
  • Work on the processing crew – every animal on our farm receives routine vaccinations (like people getting the flu shot) to bolster their natural immunity to fight off illness. The cowboy gives those vaccinations according to instructions from the veterinarian.
  • Check daily cattle health – every animal on our farm is checked every day. The cowboy knows what the animal looks like when it is healthy, therefore detecting sickness means looking for the absence of health. The veterinarian trains the cowboy to diagnose and treat sick animals, and mentors him for this important chore.
  • Ensure nourishing feed and water are available to each animal.

A good cowboy has both a compassionate and practical nature. A good cowboy puts his animals ahead of himself. A good cowboy recognizes that effective care requires viewing the world through the eyes of the calf rather than the eyes of a human.

After almost twenty years, I remain fascinated by my animals and truly enjoy the daily interactions of working with them. There are days when my body hurts and deep fatigue sets in, but the knowledge that my efforts make a difference enable me to meet each new sunrise with a smile.


While I am not sure that the little girl ever dreamed of a cattle farm, the animals intrigue the woman and inspire her to be a good cowboy.


Filed under Animal Welfare

10 responses to “Cowboying…

  1. Heather

    Great points. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, Heather! This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart — Glad to hear that you are interested in it as well 🙂


  2. Bethany S

    I use most, if not all of my vacation days to “cowboy” on my families operation. Lately it seems one of my husband and I’s constant conversation is how our critters are handled. Most generally he is out there by himself. And now that we have a little one, how our animals handle is pretty important to us. Most of the time, hooping and hollering isn’t needed. We focus on being calm, and easy. Getting the people that help us to follow suit is a struggle sometimes, but we are getting there.

    • Such an important topic, and one that more and more folks are becoming interested in. Kudos to you all for studying and implementing it! It is so much easier to communicate with a calf when he is using his brain and not afraid of the handler. We made the switch to low stress handling at the feed yard more than a decade ago, and it has made a huge difference in the quality of care that we are able to offer. We are still learning, but it is an awesome journey.

      Good luck to you!

  3. kim

    I love your perspective. I feel the same way with my small farm animals! There is a deep satisfaction in caring for them. I am slightly jealous that you get to work with cattle 🙂

    • Thank you, Kim! Caring for animals is both important and meaningful. It certainly gives purpose to my days 🙂 Cattle are particularly interesting creatures and I find them fascinating. I am so glad that my life brought me to a place where I get to care for them. When I first started at the feed yard, I was scared of the cattle. They are very large and it took some time for me to understand them well enough that I could attain confidence as a caregiver. It has been an incredible journey, and I have had some really great veterinarians as mentors.


  4. NellieBeth Sandefur

    When my calves meet the criteria to be in your feed yard, I will consider my little operation a success.

  5. Dear Anne, I wish I could write like you! Thank you for an excellent post on cowboying inyour perspective. By the way, I am very much interested in Agricultural journalism, I want to write something regarding this issue in my blog. can you assist me? Thank you in advance for your reply!

    • Hi there. Thank you for the complement. I enjoy writing and putting together my posts. It takes some practice, and quite a bit of heart 🙂 I’ve been at it 4 and a half years now.

      I’m not exactly sure what type of help you are after — perhaps you could give me some more specifics? I try to write about my own farm and my own experiences as I think that makes the experience have more meaning for both the writer and the reader.

      Good luck!

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