The Great Winter Cattle Drive
By Jake Putnam, photos by Kimmel Dalley
Elko--Dawn broke clear on the morning of January 3rd outside of Deeth, Nevada.
Cowhands unloaded horse trailers then saddled up nearly a dozen horses in bone-jarring cold. The rolling desert was dusted with snow, Blackfoot rancher Chris Dalley set out to move his cattle to greener or at least better pastures on this cold January day.
“Usually we just haul them home and start feeding them, but I found this place and it’ll last us,” said Dalley. “Depending on the weather we’ll get another month to six weeks, and we don’t have to feed so much hay.”
In life imitating art, the great winter cattle drive of 2011 had the look and feel of the 1972 John Wayne movie, “The Cowboys.” In the film, Wayne had to replace his drovers with kid cowhands after the pokes left him for goldfields. Chris Dalley had six pint-size drovers helping him on this morning, but all started riding in diapers, freezing cold or not this was a group of seasoned cowhands.
"The secret to staying warm,” said 12 year old Naomi Dalley, “dress in layers and keep hand-warmers in your pockets,” spoken like a veteran drover.
At first glance the desert looks inhospitable this time of year but under the snow is crescent wheat grass and lots of it. The Dalleys needed move the herd to Clover, Nevada to get to the new range, about 50 miles across the Starr Valley.
"It’s just high desert grass,” said Chris Dalley. “Cows do so much better because it’s natural for them to graze it, so they’ll do much better grazing even if they have to dig for it and they do better grazing than feeding. I got cattle at home and the range cattle look better.”
Twin Falls County Farm Bureau Board member Brett Meyer also pitched in, he’s known far and wide for his cowboy skills as well as 18 year-old Tanner Hawkins and 11 year-old brother Trayce from Weiser, not to mention Naomi and 9-year old Quinci Dalley.
"This was the first of many winter drives to this location, this is good range” explained Kimmel Dalley. “We dealt with temperatures from 5 to 15 degrees but settled in around 10-degrees until the sun went down then it got very cold, and two days we were still pushing cattle in the dark.”
The first day was the longest, but the drive went off without a hitch. When nightfall came the drovers all retired to a nearby ranch and got warmed up after the long day."We stayed in the bunkhouse, found something to eat and then played a game or two and went to bed. I slept really well and I got to sleep in a bedroll,” said Naomi Dalley.
On the second day it was cattle drive ‘ground hot day’ explained Kimmel. They picked up where they left off the day before; saddled up and drove cattle again till just after dark. "We didn’t see any coyotes; but saw lots of antelope running around,” said Chris.
With two days down there was a growing feeling of pride and accomplishment amongst the drovers despite the cold. "But you know it wasn’t that bad," said Chris. The last day we got pretty cold. If you get too cold you can get off your horse and start walking and that warms you up it thaws out your feet.” Dalley added that the kids could get off their horses whenever they wanted to get in the truck but for the most part toughed it out.
On the third day the cattle were tired and the crew spent a lot of time picking up stragglers. “We had a cow that wouldn’t move, I went to get her and she came at my horse, well the horse kicked her and that didn’t help things. So I went to get my Dad and she attacked my Dad,” chuckled Naomi.“That old girl figured she was done,” added Chris Dalley. "She was just mad, she wanted to chase around the bush. I got her up close to the road, threw a rope around her, backed the pickup and loaded her in the trailer. She was just done and tired; it was quite a trek in three days.”
"Kimmel Dalley says the cattle drives are priceless in teaching kid’s life’s lessons. “They learn how to deal with cattle, how to read body movements, horsemanship. Also the way we take care of the cattle is also very important, patience. Brett Meyer talked to the kids about ‘pushing through the pain until the job is done’.
Chris Dalley says that’s what it’s all about. “That’s why we run cattle; we run cattle to raise a family. I want my kids to be involved in it like I am, that’s the whole key-- have them come, help, and enjoy it.”
"The kids never complained one time about the cold. “The second night, we drove them cows for three miles in the dark. Those kids just hunkered down and I like to see that, I love to see my kids enjoy what I enjoy doing.” Kimmel adds: “We can always have fun, in work and in play, they learn respect and how to work hard and that nothing in life is free.”
The Great Winter Cattle drive of 2011 will live on in family lore with friendships and family bonds tighter than a cinch strap.