It could be a scene from 100 years ago: the women in dresses, the men in suspenders, and the riders swinging lariats to lasso the calves for branding, while children and adults hang on the corral bars to watch. Roundups don’t generally go like this anymore, but at the Quill Lake Hutterite Colony they have revived the tradition of the cowboy roundup. On July 11, just two months after calving, they bring the herd in and with riders, dogs, and footwork, start separating the calves into the corral ready for branding, tagging, castrating and immunizing.
With 230 calves this year, their herd hasn’t enlarged as much as previous years, but as Colony resident Michael Tschetter explains, “We lost a lot of pasture when the lakes rose, so we don’t want the herd to get too big.” Their herd of red Angus and black Angus looks well fed, but the loss of pasture and hay land is a concern for the Hutterites as well as other producers in the area.
The morning is reserved for chores, including making the lunch that will be brought out to the pasture for hungry workers. In the afternoon everyone gathers, including those who have come to help. This year, that includes four members of the Raymore Hutterite Colony – Ernie, Christina, Dwayne and Rhoda – with their horses. Also bringing horses and coming to help are Rivers and Dodge, university students from Oklahoma who are in Saskatchewan for the summer.
Once the cattle are rounded up, the calves are cut from the herd and penned, let into the corral a few at a time. Besides the riders, there are men, women and boys to help restrain the calves, mark and RF-tag them, give them their shots and castrate the bull calves. The strong breeze is welcome, as it blows away the mosquitoes and keeps everyone from getting too warm while working.
Several calves get out of the corral and the collie that has been sitting at the side, watching the goings-on, takes after them. The calves move too fast for the watchers to herd them in, so the riders go out to catch them. One calf is caught right away, and instead of taking it back into the corral they work on it right there. The rest of the calves are halfway across the field by now, so the riders and the dog go after them. The cattle don’t mind coming back but they sure don’t want to be caught. The last calf needs three ropes and a tackle to get it down so it can get its tag and shot.
Although it is not yet two o’clock, now is a good time to take a rest and have something to eat. Fried chicken and fresh buns come out of the back of a truck, and no one leaves hungry. The horses get a chance to cool off and rest, too, while the younger children are led on horse rides. For most of them, it is their first chance to ride a horse and they wait in line for their turn.
After lunch it is time to go back to work, so out comes the next batch of calves and the day continues.
Several Hutterite colonies are now doing roundups with horses, according to Tschetter. In some ways it is more effective than using trucks and quads, and at the same time it brings back a slice of a simpler life.
It was a privilege to watch.
By Charlene Wirtz