by Jeb Pringle, Rim Fire Stock Dogs

Ben commented that Jeb and Pat Pringle's dogs had difficult work to do, so Jeb was asked to describe where he lives and how he uses his dogs.  You folks on the open plains have it made.  Here's what Jeb writes:

"You asked about the way we use dogs to work cattle here on the high desert of S.E. Arizona.  First I will describe the terrain. 

We run our cattle on about 6000 acres with no cross fencing.  This size pasture is not unusual here in our part of the country.  In fact there are many ranchers who run pastures several times that size.  We have some control over the areas the cattle occupy by controlling their access to water.  However, the cattle soon learn that they have the whole pasture to escape in if they feel the need.

Our area consists of many arroyos, canyons, dense tamarisk thickets along river beds (mostly dry), mesquite bosques, large areas of heavy cat claw and greasewood growth and some open grassy areas.  The edges of the arroyos, canyons and river beds generally are not gradual and sloping but instead are sheer cliffs and drop-offs ranging from as low as two feet to as high as fifty or sixty feet.  In many places the mesquite bosques and thickets are so dense that we cannot ride a horse through them and often cannot even lead our horse.  Of course, the cattle being shorter, can get through just fine.  All of this creates a situation where not only are cattle hard to find, but when we do find them, often we cannot get to them. 

If I am on the rim of a canyon and see cattle in the bottom, I may have to find another route to reach them which takes time and requires that they are out of my sight for a period of time.  If, in the meantime, the cattle have seen me, there is a good chance they will have left the area by the time I get to them.  In this kind of country there obviously are many different escape routes and, you can believe, the cattle know them all.  In this instance I will send the dogs down to hold the cattle until I get there.  The dogs always seem to find a way down.

In the case of dense tree thickets, I will send the dogs in to bring them out. Sometimes I have to take the cattle through trees to get where we're going.  Before I had dogs I would use helpers and we would pretty much get the cattle going in the right direction and just follow them until we got out of the trees.  That might be a distance of up to a mile in some places and we never ended up with as many as we started with and had no idea where we lost the ones that got away.  Now, with just the dogs for help and, of course all of my cattle being dog broke,  the cattle tend to stay bunched up on their own and seldom will one split away from the herd in an effort to get away.  If the cattle start going too fast, I just send the dogs around to hold them up. 

Cat claw and greasewood grow up to about six feet in height.  When horseback I am able to see cattle over the top of the brush but the dogs, being so much lower, cannot.  Usually, when I see cattle in those areas, the cattle see me about the same time and begin to run off.  Since the cattle are probably about an eighth to a quarter mile away it's very difficult to send the dogs through the thorny brush and expect them to find cattle they can't see or smell.  In this case I will ride over to where the cattle just left so the dogs can pick up the trail.  Once they have the trail I will send them and they run straight up the trail to the cattle, get around them and hold them up.  As you might guess, there are no fancy outruns in this kind of country.  An outrun here means wasted time, exhausted dogs and lost cattle.

One time I was gathering some strays off of a neighbor's place in an area of heavy water shed near the river.  The ground was badly cut up with deep arroyos and crevices.  I found the cattle in the bottom of one of these cuts but was unable to get down to them as it was a sheer drop of about ten feet to the bottom.  I began pushing them by hollering and throwing rocks and sticks in hopes we would eventually get to a place where I could get down or they could get out.  This seemed to be working until three head wandered down a dead end crevice about as wide as a squeeze chute.  They were in there single file and couldn't go any further because the end was a sheer wall of dirt about ten feet high.  Hollering and throwing things didn't make them backup.  Instead they just stood there staring up at me.  I was afraid the walls were too steep to send the dogs and I was afraid if I sent them they would find a way but would be behind the cattle instead of in front where I needed them.  I contemplated getting a hold of a dog and dropping it down in front of them but then he would be trapped down there with no escape and I didn't want my dogs hurt.  While I was pondering all this, suddenly my female Border Collie just baled off the edge practically landing on the lead cow's head.  Fortunately the bottom was sandy and she didn't get hurt.  She hit the ground growling and biting and the old lead cow was so startled she ran backwards pushing the other cows backwards as well.  End of problem.

My cattle are dog broke to the point that my dogs can bring them behind my horse.  However, I have found that when the cows have calves at their side, there will always be a few that think the dogs are getting too close and will go on the prod.  Then the rest of the cows think there is danger and pretty soon there is bedlam.  It takes about five minutes to calm them all down and get things going again but it soon happens again.  As a result, when moving pairs I drive instead of lead, keeping my dogs back with me and sending them to the front only when the cattle get too strung out or start running.

Hopefully, this will give you some idea of our part of the country and how we use dogs.  Just to give you the full flavor of ranching here on the Chihuahua desert I should mention that our summers reach 110 degrees or higher and as I write this article (April 6, '02) we have had one inch of rain since Dec.15, '01 and little hope for relief until mid July."

Thank you, Jeb!

Copyright 2001 to Infinity, NAAKR, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Posted April 7, 2002