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South Dakota Cowdogs in Winter

Winter in South Dakota can be a challenge and with 10 inches of snow and two young dogs for help I wondered how the day would unfold!

"Gypsy, way to me," I whispered and my little pocket rocket was off down the hill. "Whit, come bye," sent my big white dog off to the left. They moved in complete silence across the snow covered ground. Down the hill, through a small dip and up again. They reached the far draw in perfect time together. The two of them quickly took control of the calves and worked them towards the pickup.

The calves having never seen a pickup, didn't associate it with feed yet. They tried running past it, but Whit beat them around and put the brakes on. I waited until the dogs had the calves settled and then poured the feed out. Within a week, it would be more of a challenge for the dogs to drive the calves away from the pickup then to bring them to it!

After all the calves were accounted for and fed, we loaded the dogs up and headed on to the next task. I saddled a couple of horses while my husband, Mike, hooked up the trailer. We got everyone loaded and took off for a neighbors house to help brand one bunch of new cows and preg check another.

While Mike and Gypsy helped run the cows through the chute to brand, Whit and I took off to gather the 200 remaining cows. These cows had never seen a dog before and very rarely a horse. They were a little on the flighty side when we showed up. Actually, they took off in three different directions at a high rate of speed! The fact that they were in a smaller, 160 acre pasture instead of one of the large summer pastures (2000 acres) was one of our saving graces.

Whit had one bunch stopped but I hadnít been able to get around the main bunch because my horse had dropped through the snow. I whistled for Whit and he raced around to the front of the thundering mass. He got them slowed down and I finally managed to get out of the snow bank and around to help him.

The run through the deep snow had taken the top edge off the cows and we were able to get them turned and headed for the corrals. Once we had them headed in the right direction, I left Whit to bring them while I loped my horse towards the front of the herd which was quickly stringing out. I wanted to make sure none of them got any fancy ideas about taking off down through the draws.

We made it to the wing at the corrals and held them there until the guys shut the branding stove off. I whistled for Gypsy and within minutes the cows marched in like broke calves. We finished preg checking the cows and then loaded dogs and horses up to go home.

When we got there it was almost dark but the dogs were still looking for more work! As I got them fed and put in their kennel for the night, I paused for a moment to lavish some affection on them. It sure feels good to have such great working partners that love this life as much as I do!

- Laura, her husband and two young boys (ages 4 & 6), raise beef cattle, Quarter Horses and Border Collies in Southwestern South Dakota. Laura enjoys training horses and dogs. If you would like to visit with her about ranching, stockdogs, horses, or life in general, feel free to email her at or call her at 605-455-2580.

Picture used with the story!