GUALFIN, ARGENTINA – Our annual roundup… or yerra… began yesterday.
We go out on horseback early in the morning with our gauchos Gustavo, José, Samuel, and Natalio.
Pedro has a bad back and no longer rides.
The technique is simple: It takes two or three hours to get to the far end of the valley. Then we begin whooping and hollering to drive the cattle back to the corral.
But it is a big field. And the monte is full of sagebrush, cacti, gullies, canyons, rocks, and various varieties of undergrowth in which the cattle can hide.
We have two fields… or campos… of about 5,000 acres each. Yesterday, we did the campo to the west of the house. Today, we’ll sweep the campo to the east.
In each, we hope to find about 200 cows and calves.
The herd is smaller than it used to be. We had to get rid of hundreds of animals during last year’s drought.
We try to get the animals in the corral by noon. Then we break for lunch.
In the afternoon, we drive the cows from the corral, one by one, through the chute… or manga… where they are locked in place so that they can be given vaccinations.
Male calves are castrated. Horns are cut off. The young females that will stay on the ranch are branded.
The whole thing is not for squeamish types with Bernie Sanders bumper stickers. And parts of it are dangerous. Driven to aggravation or madness, the cows – or bulls – will sometimes charge.
Once, we were in the pen when an enraged bull headed for us at top speed. Readers would be impressed by how fast a sixtysomething gringo writer can vault over a 5-foot fence.
Another time, on horseback, we chased a runaway bull. Then, at full gallop, we leaned over to lash the bull… the saddle slipped… and we tumbled onto the ground.
Yesterday, Samuel was in the pen when a young bull charged. He darted behind a post. But the bull circled the post fast and caught him on the leg.
In a cloud of dust, Samuel ran to the stone wall and hoisted himself over, with the bull hard on his heels. Today, he walks with a limp.
We’ll report more on this year’s yerra… tomorrow.