Want to get that authentic Yee-Haw experience without the hassle of gun fights and rustlers? Then a cattle drive holiday might be the post-Covid holiday for you.
When we think of cattle drives, most of us conjure up images of scenes in a long-forgotten wild west, with cowboys lassoing their horses, the odd gun fight in a saloon here and there, and maybe even a cameo appearance from the Milky Bar Kid. Although cattle drives and their cowboys have become enshrined in Western film and TV throughout the last century, cattle driving remains a tradition that is today very much alive and truly thriving.
Cattle driving traditionally consisted of transporting livestock, walking or “driving” herds of cattle across a route to market, with periodic breaks to ensure that the animals maintained a financially profitable weight. The people driving the cattle of course, were the “cowboys”. Cattle drives had their heyday in the years between 1850 and 1910; during this time an estimated 27M cattle were moved to Kansas from Texas, often around 700 miles, for shipment to stockyards in Louisiana.
Of course, the economics of cattle driving have changed somewhat over the years. The main money-maker in cattle driving in the late 19th century was the beasts themselves and the money they fetched when sold at market. 21st century cattle driving, however, takes advantage of the legacy left by classic western films such as Cattle Drive, Red River, and The Cowboys, charging curious tourists money to experience life on the drive. In doing so, however, many ranches perform an important function in the education of visitors regarding the history and traditions associated with cattle driving, and the lives of those who worked with and farmed the cattle.
There are a variety of ranches across North America offering cattle driving experiences across many on the historical “old west” trails portrayed in film and popular literature. With prominent ranches across Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, and Wyoming, to name but a few, there really is a cattle driving experience for every American traveller and visitor.
Tourists partaking in modern cattle driving are usually housed in a guest ranch, near to the main farm and agricultural land, however some packages (such as Klondike Ranch, Wyoming) do offer an optional overnight mountain camping trip. Although today’s cattle drives cover much smaller distances, typically transporting cattle between feeding grounds rather than from ranch to stockyard, they still offer an authentic taste of a way of life so iconic to American culture.
Learner cattle drivers can also expect to be trained in good horsemanship, as horse riding makes up an intrinsic part of each experience. Some ranches, such as Burnt Well Guest Ranch in New Mexico, offer special equine courses alongside their cattle driving. Their “horse camping” no doubt gives a genuine feel for the cowboy way of life. Nor are children forgotten! Focus Ranch in Wyoming offers a family-friendly package, with their ethos centring around education and learning as well as enjoyment of the great outdoors. Although some packages offer the “full ranch experience”, including branding cattle, mending fences, and helping with household chores, this is not mandatory. Guests can pick and choose from a variety of ranches and their options, with many ranches running multiple different packages and experiences.
Visitors can choose how long to stay, but a typical weekly rate runs at $1,875 per person, with a fortnight setting you back $3,625 per person, so perhaps one to save up for. That being said, visitors are generally fully catered for, with cosy cabin accommodation, three meals a day plus snacks, as well as fishing and hiking equipment to use. The ranches do seem to make a real effort to ensure customer satisfaction, with a series of other perks being included in most packages. Klondike Ranch, for example, includes airport transport, a history tour, and even a hot tub in their experience.
Whatever your opinion, there is no denying that cattle driving experiences are big business. Indeed, there is even an established “Dude Ranches Association” which offers membership to authentic ranches. The selection process is rigorous, with the association only endorsing ranches that embody its core values of “Horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty, and heart”, as stated on the DRA website. Whether you are looking to live out your wild west dream, or simply seeking an authentic and unique holiday experience, cattle driving is an interesting option for any would-be cowboys and cowgirls. For a once in a lifetime, one of a kind, outward bounds experience, cattle driving certainly fits the bill.