THE CROOKED H RANCH

by Charlie Berthout

Working Aussie Source editor’s note: this is a letter sent to Terry Martin, which appeared in her Aussie Times column, ‘Stockdog Corner’.

berthout1_forwebCrooked H Ranch has winter range in the Cottonwood Basin southeast of Camp Verde, Arizona, and summer range around Clint’s Well, southeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. The homestead base is in the Long Valley at Clint’s Well. The balance of the range is cross-fenced Forest Service permit range of about 100,000 acres. The Crooked H has been written up in several Forest Service Bulletins for its range improvement programs, and the Forest Service has brought personnel in from other states to see how it works.

We head out of winter range camp at daybreak; four or five cowboys with eight dogs. It is still too dark for photographs and the desert is cold at this time. We head south for the four-mile ride to the pastures which run from Burnt Spring to the Verde River to the west. The herd is scattered extensively because the forage is sparse, and I am always amazed that the stock will climb up into these rocks. We use horses that are surefooted in the rocks and dogs that are pretty tough.

Part of the dogs are sent out to hunt cattle and the balance are held back of the horses to hold the herd as it is gathered. We have one trailing hound, one McNabb, one Kelpie, one Heeler, and three or four Aussies. Each of these breeds does something a little better than the others, and all are needed.
berthout2_forwebWe try to gather all of the stock on the first pass but it never quite works that way. Each rider has been assigned an area to sweep, with instructions to meet at some water hole (tank) on toward the gate to the next fenced pasture. These pastures run from 4,000 acres to 10,000 acres, depending on the terrain and the forage crop. The stock must be moved according to the forage in the given pasture. There is always a lot of rivalry to see who can gather the most cows.

The time frame is usually such that we have the stock in the next pasture in time to stop, unsaddle, and eat a late saddlebag lunch before heading back to camp which, by now, may be eight miles away. The dogs are pretty tired by this time and all take a rest under the brush until we are ready to saddle up and move out toward camp. We will normally be back to camp by 4:30 in the afternoon.

Between this move and the next move, which may be four days or two weeks, cowboys and dogs will be pasture prowling for strays and checking fences. If some hunter or hiker has not left a gate open, we will be okay. Otherwise we may be hunting strays for three or four days.

berthout3_forwebWe will repeat this procedure for each pasture. In the spring, we will work to the “Water Center” at about the center of the range. A syphon carries water five miles across country from the well to three 15,000 gallon tanks that furnish float-controlled water into tanks that provide water for five pastures. We cut off the new calves and brand, castrate, ear notch, and inoculate them before returning them to their mamas. All are then eased out into a new pasture.

Between the 20th of May and the 15th of June, the herd ends up at the shipping pens where everything is sorted and either shipped to market or moved via truck to the Clint’s Well range.

I spend more time training dogs than many of the others, but each is always trying to improve his dogs. I use more Aussies than the others, but that is because they are more versatile than the other breeds. The dogs that start the youngest are usually the most effective.

Training dogs and cowboying are two separate activities, and the cowboys have a hard time finding the time to spare on dogs that it takes to train them to full potential. As a result, they do not get as much help from the dogs as I know can be obtained. I cannot overemphasize the help the dogs can give. The dogs with the most hunting instinct and the most aggressiveness are the most valuable.

Another trait seldom discussed is that shown to me by a fine trainer, called “presence.” He showed me how some dogs can walk up to stock, and the stock just moves away, while other dogs move up to stock, surround the stock, and bark their heads off, with the stock just standing there looking at the dog. I find the dogs have to be worked individually so this can be observed. This trait is especially necessary in working dogs out in this rough country where they are often on their own.

berthout4_forwebAs the dogs improve and become tougher, our work becomes easier and our horseshoes last longer with less shoeing time required. Ultimately, we will use fewer horses, and dogs are less expensive to feed than horses.

Now we are going to work to improve our dogs’ work in the corrals and chutes so that we do not have to work on foot quite so much. None of our cows are what we call “dog broke” so they are difficult to work, both in the open and especially in close quarters. These old cows with calves are always mad, and it takes a good dog to work them and still keep everything moving.

We have acquired some older Aussies and some young breeding stock from proven lines and are beginning to work on their training to determine if they and their offspring have the qualities to upgrade our working dog pack. All of these dog will not prove to be capable of performing the work required and will be placed with someone who does not need quite the strength and endurance we require.

After all, the Aussie is probably the best all-around dog in this country today. Some of the dogs we use are better at some things than the Aussies, but the Aussies do it all and most of it better. We like as short hair as we can get, and the smaller dogs seem to have more staying power.

this article was originally published in the January/February 1995 issue of the Aussie Times