Community Agriculture Alliance: Biking with cattle in Routt County

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— It’s time for fall traffic jams in Routt County, but not the kind many of you might be accustomed to.

Beginning now and persisting through late October or early November, area ranchers will gather cattle from their summer pastures and bring them home. Often, the route home is along our county roads. Those who are in cars have a distinct advantage over bicyclists during these cattle drives. Cars are easier for the cattle to see, pose a more familiar sight and sound to the animals, provide good protection from the occasional bump or kick, and better handle the slick green stuff left behind by a herd of cattle.

Fall days, however, are ideal for those last bicycle rides before winter sets in. So what is a bicyclist to do when encountering a herd of cattle?

Let’s start with the basics. Cattle are prey animals, and like all prey, they will try to get away from perceived danger. When pressed, however, they will defend themselves. They butt with their heads, kick with their hind legs, bump with their bulk and trample with their hooves. It’s amazing how quickly a lumbering cow can kick with a hind leg or move forward, sideways or turn. Give cattle plenty of room.

At this time of year, the cattle that bicyclists encounter come in four sizes: huge, large, big and medium. The huge ones are bulls. They weigh about 1 ton each. They have been separated with their own group of cows for most of the summer and now they are with other bulls in the midst of all these cows. They are aware only of the other bulls in the group and might feel the need to prove themselves. As they fight, they circle and push back and forth, and they break and run. Their fight paths are unpredictable. If bulls are acting aggressive toward other bulls, give them plenty of room.

The large ones are the cows. They average 1,000 to 1,500 pounds. They will move away from you, but you will notice that the faster you go, the faster they will go. Depending on the age of their calves, they might be very protective or just move along. Be aware that they are quick with their hind legs and can kick straight and to the side.

The big ones are yearlings. These are the most unpredictable. They spook easily and have a tendency to do the opposite of what is expected. They weigh from 800 to 1,000 pounds and are very quick.

The medium-sized ones are the calves. At a minimum, they weigh twice as much as any bicyclist and bicycle. Their weight ranges from 400 to 700 pounds. Because they are the babies, they tend to be curious about things and might come toward you. They dart in front of cars and bikes and have been known to kick just for the fun of it.

When encountering a herd of cattle moving down the road, what you should do depends on the direction the herd is traveling. If the herd is coming toward you, the safest thing is to get to the side and let the herd pass. It’s even helpful if you stand in driveways or intersecting roads — unless that’s where the herd is going. Riding against the direction of the herd causes cattle to turn, and when one turns their buddies often follow suit. That can lead to a major wreck for cattle, cars, bikes, horses and people. When riding in the same direction of the herd, the best thing to do is to take a cue from the people moving the cattle. The herd has riders in front and back, with occasional riders along the sides. If the herd is large, many herders will lead groups of cars and bikes through the herd.

Enjoy the fall biking season, and please be safe and aware.

Routt County rancher Jo Stanko and her husband, Jim, operate the 103-year-old Stanko Ranch on Twentymile Road just south of Steamboat Springs. Those who are in cars have a distinct advantage over bicyclists during these cattle drives. Cars are easier for the cattle to see, pose a more familiar sight and sound to the animals, provide good protection from the occasional bump or kick, and better handle the slick green stuff left behind by a herd of cattle.

Fall days, however, are ideal for those last bicycle rides before winter sets in. So what is a bicyclist to do when encountering a herd of cattle?

Let’s start with the basics. Cattle are prey animals, and like all prey, they will try to get away from perceived danger. When pressed, however, they will defend themselves. They butt with their heads, kick with their hind legs, bump with their bulk and trample with their hooves. It’s amazing how quickly a lumbering cow can kick with a hind leg or move forward, sideways or turn. Give cattle plenty of room.

At this time of year, the cattle that bicyclists encounter come in four sizes: huge, large, big and medium. The huge ones are bulls. They weigh about 1 ton each. They have been separated with their own group of cows for most of the summer and now they are with other bulls in the midst of all these cows. They are aware only of the other bulls in the group and might feel the need to prove themselves. As they fight, they circle and push back and forth, and they break and run. Their fight paths are unpredictable. If bulls are acting aggressive toward other bulls, give them plenty of room.

The large ones are the cows. They average 1,000 to 1,500 pounds. They will move away from you, but you will notice that the faster you go, the faster they will go. Depending on the age of their calves, they might be very protective or just move along. Be aware that they are quick with their hind legs and can kick straight and to the side.

The big ones are yearlings. These are the most unpredictable. They spook easily and have a tendency to do the opposite of what is expected. They weigh from 800 to 1,000 pounds and are very quick.

The medium-sized ones are the calves. At a minimum, they weigh twice as much as any bicyclist and bicycle. Their weight ranges from 400 to 700 pounds. Because they are the babies, they tend to be curious about things and might come toward you. They dart in front of cars and bikes and have been known to kick just for the fun of it.

When encountering a herd of cattle moving down the road, what you should do depends on the direction the herd is traveling. If the herd is coming toward you, the safest thing is to get to the side and let the herd pass. It’s even helpful if you stand in driveways or intersecting roads — unless that’s where the herd is going. Riding against the direction of the herd causes cattle to turn, and when one turns their buddies often follow suit. That can lead to a major wreck for cattle, cars, bikes, horses and people. When riding in the same direction of the herd, the best thing to do is to take a cue from the people moving the cattle. The herd has riders in front and back, with occasional riders along the sides. If the herd is large, many herders will lead groups of cars and bikes through the herd.

Enjoy the fall biking season, and please be safe and aware.

Routt County rancher Jo Stanko and her husband, Jim, operate the 103-year-old Stanko Ranch on Twentymile Road just south of Steamboat Springs.

Comments

Colette Erickson 4 years, 3 months ago

PS - If you are in a vehicle, PLEASE do not lay on the horn if you think things - cattle - are going too slowly. That can cause big problems, as well. Thanks.

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