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Tim O'Byrne's Cowboys & Buckaroos, Trade Secrets of a North American Icon is a definitive guide to cowboy skills and work. Richard Beal describes the book in language as clear and to the point as the book itself, saying it is about "...what real cowboys do and how they do it...." Everyone with an interest in the real working West, regardless of their own experience, will find themselves drawn into this captivating, encyclopedic book.

O'Byrne draws on his extensive experience, taking the reader inside today's working ranches and feedyards for a comprehensive view of the cowboy occupation. With a foundation of respect for tradition and for the masters of the trade who have "crossed the Great Divide," Cowboys & Buckaroos addresses topics from calving to training cow dogs. A generous number of drawings and impressive photographs by O'Byrne illustrate the practical side of cowboy life. The draw of the lifestyle seasons the engaging writing, and is reflected in the author's journal excerpts from his working days, and in many of the striking images.

Tim O'Byrne comments, "I want the book to pay tribute to those that have come and gone before us, I want people to learn about how complex the cowboy's job is today, I want the reader to understand how much the working cowboy gets attached to the critters he works with and how well they are cared for, and I want folks to realize that the trade is not gender specific.  Men and women share this passion equally and in relative harmony.  It is a book of tribute and appreciation first, and a technical manual after that."

With the kind cooperation of Tim O'Byrne and the publisher, Western Horseman, we're pleased to bring you the following excerpts and information from Cowboys & Buckaroos.

All text and photography below, used by permission, is copyrighted by Western Horseman, a registered trademark of Morris Communications Corporation, Augusta, Georgia.  This material may not be reproduced without express written permission of the copyright holder.

Below, from Cowboys and Buckaroos:

About Cowboys & Buckaroos


What Does it Take to Become a Cowboy?
Understanding Who's Who on a Big Outfit Crew
Calving the Cow Herd
The Long and Short of Short Lines

Cowboys & Buckaroos' table of contents

Order information and praise for the book

About Tim O'Byrne

front cover photo by Christine O'Byrne

About Cowboys & Buckaroos
from the book's back cover

photo by Tim O'Byrne

The cowboy has been a subject of fascination for over a century, yet few people truly understand the nature of his work. Cowboys & Buckaroos explains in great detail the trade secrets and working lifestyle of this North American icon in a way that appeals to everyone.

Learn about starting colts using cowboy and buckaroo methods, riding feedlot pens, roping cattle and making long-circles in rough terrain. Follow the cowboy crew as they guide their cattle through the four seasons, each one with its own distinct challenges. Over 250 photographs document authentic working cowboys as they perform their daily tasks on million-acre mountain and desert ranches, in huge feedyards out on the Great Plains and on family ranching operations scattered from Texas to British Columbia. 

Cowboy culture doesn't discriminate against any person possessing enough tenacity to saddle up, even if only for the weekend. The author left the city at age 17 and spent over 20 years working on large commercial ranch and feedyard operations across the West. Excerpts from the author's journal offer candid, firsthand accounts of his struggle to achieve the skills necessary for him to earn inclusion into the cowboy world.

Cowboys & Buckaroos serves as the modern-day definitive guide to help improve your own cowboy skills, preserve the time-honored tradition of the Cowboy Code and enhance your enjoyment of the ride.



What Does it Take to Become a Cowboy?
Understanding Who's Who on a Big Outfit Crew
Calving the Cow Herd
The Long and Short of Short Lines


What Does it Take to Become a Cowboy?
from Chapter 1, Defining the Word Cowboy

The desire to become a cowboy or buckaroo usually starts with the individual's need for a personal challenge or extreme adventure. Contrary to popular belief, joining the ranks of the working cowboys has never been restricted to second- or third-generation ranch kids. Everyone had to start somewhere, including the cowboys of the 1860s who were credited with contributing much to the development of the culture. My father was a career Air Force man, and the first time I saw a cow was on my uncle's farm when I was ten. Many young men and women from equally diverse backgrounds get caught up in the cowboy world when they help out during the summer at a mountain guiding outfit or dude ranch. The freedom of the outdoors attaches to a part of their soul, and the result is often a blinding, all-encompassing commitment to earn the right to call themselves a "hand."

The cowboy and the buckaroo world in North America today is a relatively small one. If you meet someone on the Texas plains, you can pretty much build a chain of "Do you know (whoever)?" all the way up into western Canada. Reputations often precede the traveling cowboy on the ranch he's lookin' to hire onto. And, as you can imagine, integrity is the cornerstone of an admirable reputation. There's little room for rogues and scallywags. Usually, the drifters with bad intent get only one chance to make it. If they step over the line and do harm to one of the cowboy clan, including family, no matter where, the dubious deed will always catch up to them.

The physical aspect of the professional cowboy's job can be considered quite unique. Cowboys spend an inordinate amount of time in motion, rarely sitting long enough for a lucky photographer to snap a prize-winning photo. Outfits comprising a great deal of real estate rely on either trotting out or trailering out from camp to get to where the work begins. These great distances horseback lead to calcified knee joints, fused spinal columns and hairless calves and inner thighs.

The ability to withstand anything Mother Nature can toss his way is crucial because very often the cowboy is stuck up there on his horse in the middle of a work and taking shelter isn't an option.  Preparedness is a virtue and many times a simple item like a box of matches can be the only thing standing between survival and defeat.

Cowboys not only work together, they also live together. Therefore, the ability to get along in cramped quarters is high on the list of requirements for the job. The cowhand who disrespects others' property or right to sleep, eat and read a book is soon dealt with. Learning the rules can be a painful undertaking but it's a necessary component of earning the right to call yourself a cowboy.

by Tim O'Byrne, from Cowboys & Buckaroos, 2005 by Western Horseman
This material may not be reproduced without express written permission of the copyright holder.


Understanding Who's Who on a Big Outfit Crew
"Tips" from Chapter 2, Securing a Job on a Big Outfit

Cowboss: He hires and fires the crew, divvies our the horses, plans the day's work, is responsible for all the supplies, drives the truck, never gets a gate, loads his horse first, takes the long circle.

Jigger Boss (straw boss): Some outfits have a second-in-command to the cowboss, called a jigger boss or straw boss.

Lead-Off Man: A senior level cowboy who's designated to lead the entire crew or a crew split on a particular work. A lead-off man might be a camp foreman, a senior-level cowboy, or the jigger boss.

Cowboys and Buckaroos: Split among guys and gals from 19 years of age to 99. Each person has all his own gear.

Young Guys: 16 to 19 years of age, yappy, think they know more than they do, likeable in an annoying way, handy to have around.

Nighthawk: Usually some truant kid who quit school or arrives at the wagon during summer holidays and works herding the horses virtually for free (a couple of bucks, grub and a place to unroll his bed).

Cook: The cook is regarded extremely highly, feared and heeded by all, treated like a movie star, pampered like a lap dog, cussed by some (always from a great distance), and missed sorely when gone.

by Tim O'Byrne, from Cowboys & Buckaroos, 2005 by Western Horseman, reproduction prohibited
This material may not be reproduced without express written permission of the copyright holder.


Calving the Cow Herd
from Chapter 5, Spring Works

The main cow herd is usually calved out in huge grass preserves set aside all year especially for that purpose. Some of these tracts of land are unbelievable large in size and center around calving camps that cater to five or six cowboys at a time. Cowboys must leave camp in the morning on the long trot if they expect to make a decent circle and get back by suppertime.

Cows love wide open spaces to calve in. They're very solitary animals during this special time, and they often surprise the cowboys with their selection of hidey-holes in which to deliver their calves.

Calving in the wide open is a wonderful assignment for cowboys because the sunny days and melting snow are a welcome respite from the bitter cold of winter. Cowboys are happy because they wear their good ol' riding boots again, having thrown the clumsy winter footwear into the back of the bunkhouse closet until next year.

A general rule of thumb on a big cow-outfit is one man for every 500 cows. There are places where over 2,000 cows are turned out in pasture totaling in the tens of thousands of acres. Cowboy heaven.

The routine is a bit different out there in the open but nonetheless important. Remember, without a calf crop to sell in the fall a ranch can't remain viable. Cowboys pack all sorts of calving items with them because they end up so far from the calving camp or the truck and trailer that to trot back every time they need something would be a ridiculous waste of time.

Here's what most guys pack on their rig, in their banana bag, or on their body during calving time:

  • A book and a pencil to write down notes, tag numbers and such

  • Prolapse tape (special woven string for prolapses)

  • A marker crayon (to identify animals that have been worked on)

  • A long calving chain and a handle (some guys use a piece of nylon cord and a stick)

  • About six short lines (see "Short Lines" in Chapter 9)

  • An extra rope

  • Antibiotics, a syringe, clean needles and other items such as scour tablets for the calves and plastic sleeves for vaginal palpations

  • Ear tags and a tagging plier

  • A couple of milking needles (to release the milk from tight-bagged cows)

  • Toilet paper

  • Matches

  • A two-way radio, common on some outfits

by Tim O'Byrne, from Cowboys & Buckaroos, 2005 by Western Horseman, reproduction prohibited
This material may not be reproduced without express written permission of the copyright holder.


The Long and Short of Short Lines
an excerpt from Tim O'Byrne's Journal from Chapter 9: Roping--Cowboy Style 

"Tie her down," yelled the lead-off man over his shoulder while he struggled to hold the heels from 50 feet away. His horse was pulling the rope with everything he had, and you could hear the snap and zip of the nylon as it settled into the well-worn tracks of his horn.

"Whadaya mean?" I yelled back, adrenaline rushing as the cow stared at me with deadly intent through bulging eyes. My rope around her neck was starting to slack off, putting me in a dangerous position there on foot so I pleaded with my horse to back up and keep it tight while I figured out what to do. Somebody was clearly going to get stomped here, and it wasn't going to be the boss up there on his horse far away.

"Where's your short line?" he yelled back, rope straining as the cow kicked like a housecat with a play toy.

Dang! I didn't have one. You could hear him mutter something under his breath as he took his McCarty (mecate) in his teeth and fished around with his left hand down by his belt. Pulling out a chunk of soft white rope he boomeranged it in my general direction, then went immediately back to the task of holding the cow down so she wouldn't get up and smear me out.

This incident happened to me early in my career when I was still struggling to understand the rigors of big outfit cowboy life. As the boss and I trotted back to the ranch in silence I wrestled with the decision to either include short lines in my toolbox or ignore their many uses. Within a week I had two of them handing off the belt of my chinks.

                                                                   T Lazy S Ranch, Battle Mountain, Nevada, 1981


by Tim O'Byrne, from Cowboys & Buckaroos, 2005 by Western Horseman, reproduction prohibited
This material may not be reproduced without express written permission of the copyright holder.


Book Contents


Cowboys & Buckaroos


Chapter 1:  Defining the Word Cowboy
    Early Beginnings
    The Cowboy
    The Buckaroo
    Hybrid Cowboys--The Third Style
    Is Cowboying an Art, a Craft or a Way of Life
    Classifications of Working Ranches
    What Does it Take to Become a Cowboy?

Chapter 2:  Securing a Job on a Big Outfit
    Ten Years to Make a Hand?    
    Today's Cowboy Requirements
    Minimum Gear List
    Understanding Who's Who on a Big Outfit Crew
    Pursuing a Job

Chapter 3:  A Green Cowboy Joins the Crew
    Learning Trade Slang and Terms
    Jingling the Horses (Wrangling)
    Catching Horses
    Standing on the Ropes
    Roping Duties
    The Three Most Common Horse-Catching Loops
    Catching in the Jingle Trap or Rope Corral
    Recognition Skills

Chapter 4:  The Novice is Introduced to the Cowboy Way
    Day 1 -- "Thanks for Breakfast"
    New String of Horses
    The Circle
    How a Circle Works
    The Novice--Making His First Circle
    So Many Things Can Happen
    Understanding the Flow of the Land
    Building a Rodear
    The Cut
    Creating an Exit Flow from the Working Face
    Rules of the Rodear
    The Novice -- Moving on to the Next Level

Chapter 5:  Spring Works
    Calving Heifers
    The Average Heifer Herd
    Common Calving Problems
    Hard Decisions
    After the Calf Arrives
    Calving Outside
    Pairing Out
    The Art of Grafting
Calving the Cow Herd
    A Typical Day Calving Cows in the Open
    Recognition Skills
    Restraint Methods
    Dragging Calves
    Roping Off a Colt
    Open Rodear Branding
    Cleaning Up the Works

Chapter 6:  Summer Works
    Flow Chart
    A Typical Turnout Day
    Herd Movement
    Wet Herd (Cows and Calves)
    Reaching the Final Destination
    Dry Herd (Yearlings and Dry Cows)
    Training the Herd
    Interference from Large Vehicles, ATVs and People on Foot
    When Cows and Vehicles Share the Road
    Handling a Huge Wreck, and Getting Beat
    The Bulls
    Selection and Turnout
    Riding Fence and Other Tasks
    Riding Bog
    Poison Alert
    Ticks, Screwworms and Other Parasites
    Fight Fire
    Pasture Doctoring
    Wheat Pasture Cattle
    Starting Colts
    Weaning and Castration
    Introductory Ground Work
    The First Saddle
    The First Ride
    The Next Year
    The "Bronco Man"

Chapter 7:  Fall Works
    Fall Gather
    The Hold-up Method
    Working a Fall Rodear--Mixed Herd
    The Horses Have a Job to Do
    Weaning and Shipping
    More Fall Work
    Preweaning (Preconditiong) Programs
    Feeding Groups
    Pre-Check teh Cows
    Culling the Herd
    Sorting the Herd
    Taking Inventory
    Winter Grass
    Moving the Feeding Groups

Chapter 8: The Making of a Horseman
    Working Colts Afoot
    Working Horseback
    Tying a Colt in the Barn
    Ranch Stallions
    Moving Big Horse Herds
    Dogs Don't Run Horses
    Horse Health Care
    Hoof Care
    Soring a Horse
    Cooling Off Period
    Horse Accidents and Injuries
    Culling Horses
    Challenging Horses
    Riding the Challenging Horse
    The Primary Circle Horse
    The Rank Horse
    Riding the Rank Ones
    Shoeing the Challenging Horse
    Fixing a Problem
    Getting Bucked Off
    Why Cowboys Get Bucked Off
    A Bad Buckoff
    Packing Horses and Mules

Chapter 9:  Roping--Cowboy Style
    Rating Cattle
    Roping Styles
    The Big Decision
    When Things Go Wrong
    Common Loops
    Laying Trips
    Sneak Shots
    Working as a Team
    Missing a Shot
    Supporting the Boss's Decisions
    Short Lines and Piggin' Strings
    The Long and Short of Short Lines 
    Tying Cattle with Short Lines
    Roping Mature Stock Alone
    Tying Off with a Long Rope
    Turning Loose
    Wild Cattle
    Loading Cattle into a Stock Trailer in the Open

Chapter 10:  Keeping Pace with Today's Beef Industry
    Working with the Environment
    Animal Welfare
    Quality Assurance, Food Safety and Good Production Practices
    Occupational Safety
Chapter 11:  The Feedlot Cowboy
Feedyard Systems
   How a Feedyard Works
   The Feedyard Cowboy's Job
   The Art of Pen Riding
   Categorizing Cattle
   Identifying an Animal-Health Concern
   Identifying Sick Calves in the Hot Pens
   Poor Weather Conditions
   Roping in the Feedyard
   The Hospital
   Treating the Pulls
   Sorting "Fats"
   The Horses
   Feedyard Occupational Health and Safety

Chapter 12: The Masters    
Master Horseman
    Range of Influence in the Round Corral
    The Finished Cow Horse
    The Horses
    Never Turn a Horse Away from a Cow
    Pacing the Ranch Horse
    Communication by Doing Nothing
    The Accomplished Horseman
    Balance and Finesse
    Cattle-Handling Masters
    Other Cattle-Handling Tactics
    Dog Men
    Training a Cow Dog
    Choosing Commands
    "Come In"
    Safe Zones
    Cattle Work for the Pup
    Time for Work

Chapter 13: The Life
The Single Life
    Married Life
    The Role of a Cowboy's Wife
    Support Members
    The Cowboss's Life
    Camps and Wagons
    Cow Camps
    Camp Bunkhouse
    Wagon Outfits
    Camp Cooks
    Cowboy Fun
    The Working Cowboy as an Icon


All chapters also include additional tips, terminology, journal entries, and more

Author Profile
Ranch Credits


Order Information and Praise for the Book

Cowboys and Buckaroos (0-911647-67-8) is available for $21.95 from:

Western Horseman

The book is also available from Beal's Cowboy Buckles, Amazon.com, and other booksellers.

Praise from Hugh McLennan, rancher and host and producer of Spirit of the West:

" I haven't been able to put Cowboys & Buckaroos down ... This is the finest, most informative, best researched, most entertaining, clearly written, practical appropriate, timely, masterfully composed anthology, text book, manual, historical, educational document on the honorable profession some of us are blessed to be involved with that I've ever laid eyes on. And that includes the volumes of work from Ed Connell, Fay Ward, Ross Santee, Will James, Spike Van Cleve, Andy Russell, and all the others I've devoured...I can envision in the coming months, hordes of hopeful young hands riding out across the hills, reins in one hand and a copy of Cowboys & Buckaroos in the other."

About Tim O'Byrne

photo by Ernie Ohlson from Cowboys & Buckaroos

Tim O'Byrne, the son of a career Air Force man, began cowboying straight out of high school in 1977 west of Calgary, Alberta. He ventured to British Columbia where he rode for the Quilchena and Nicola Ranches and was Chapperon Division foreman at Douglas Lake Ranch. Interspersed throughout the 1980's were stints on the T Lazy S, the Gamble, and the JD Ranches in northern Nevada.

In 1991 he held the position of Gang Ranch cowboss.  Later, he and his wife Christine, whom he married in 1985, moved to Alberta where Tim became a foreman at Van Raay Farms, a 90,000 head feedyard near Lethbridge.

In 1995 Tim and Christine sated a business, Calico Beef Consulting, to assist the beef industry with special projects.  In 2002 they received the Alberta Farm Animal Care Association Award for Innovation and Communication.

Tim's first book, Cowboys and Dog Tales, (Caitlin Press) was released in 1997.  He has been published many times in Canadian Cattlemen magazine and Western Horseman magazine. (See a list of books and publications here.) In 2003 Tim and Christine, along with their son Mark, relocated their consulting business to Christine's hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tim's web site is www.handlingcattle.com.







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