This column was originally published September 10, 2014
Whether it’s a determined lead cow wanting to veer the herd in the wrong direction, through the trees, or straight ahead when we want them to turn, reliable communication is helpful because cows, trees, and rocky canyons complicate the process.
Our family likes knowing what’s going on at the other end when we can’t see ahead or behind, where someone’s at, or where more cows are because we usually have to split up to get everything gathered. Someone keeps the main bunch moving while other riders go in different directions to gather more cows and everybody works around trees, hillsides, and forks in roads to keep the herd headed in the right direction. Radios and cell phones have been useful for this in place of the standard far away “hand signal” or “winging it” system but cell phones and radios aren’t failsafe replacements. The point of using communication gadgets is so everybody can talk and eliminate miscommunication, confusion, or wrong actions, but both have their frustrations too.
The Black Hills isn’t entirely cell service dependable and it’s always at a critical moment such as needing backup that I’ll call the boss and get his voicemail box. Texting is unhandy and more time consuming than convenient, especially when loping a horse through trees to catch up to the lead cow to turn her and the herd toward the desired direction.
With radios, it’s best to announce who is being addressed. One time our daughter and I got cows to the water tanks and I heard my husband say something on the radio but didn’t get it all so I ignored it and kept riding. Then he said, “Did you hear me? Stop right there.” Realizing he was talking to us we stopped. We all waited for our son and the pair he was bringing. After a few minutes Art saw him waiting a ways off at the corner of a fence not moving. The three of us decided to ride toward him and asked him what he was doing. He heard Dad on the radio say, “Stop right there” and figured he was talking to us girls so he kept coming until he heard Dad say, “Did you hear me? Stop right there.” He couldn’t see Dad anywhere but wasn’t about to keep riding.
Radios are most useful when everybody’s calm and cow-moving is going smoothly, but that’s not usually when radios get used. During tense moments when riders at the back can’t see what’s going on ahead are when a disgruntled Russian-sounding voice comes on the radio. I can’t understand what my husband’s saying because he hollers into the radio before he’s actually clicked it on and what’s heard is a highly excited voice giving some kind of time-sensitive command which only the last half gets heard. When our commander is trying to salvage a chaotic situation I’m sure he doesn’t want hear me say—and it pains me to do have to do it—after conferring with my daughter and determining his message was incomprehensive; “WHAT?” When I don’t get a reply, I then add, “We can’t hear you! You have to hold the mic before you start talking!” Once he does reply, it’s usually louder, more articulated, and distorted unless it’s too late.
It figures that the only times my husband gets excited about talking to me is when it pertains to cows.
© 2014 Amy Kirk