Sunday, April 13, 2014

5 Lessons in Cowboy Jargon

If there was one word to describe April it would be branding.  Every weekend (and a couple of days in between) we spend out on the range branding.  We have our cows out with other ranches, so naturally we have more than just our herd to brand.   I mean it’s not too neighborly to not help our rancher friends!  With so many cowboys around, it’s easy to get lost in the cowboy jargon.  Usually I would say to just smile and nod your head but out here you can’t always fake it!  So here are a 5 words and phrases from the Cowboy Jargon Dictionary (… there is no such thing… I totally just made that up…). 

1. A cowboy’s outfit: No this isn’t in reference to his clothing choice of the day.  A cowboy does have some... different clothing choices but that’s because they choose function over fashion.  But when one cowboy compliments another cowboy’s outfit, he’s talking about his truck and trailer.  Can you imagine cowboys sitting around talking about clothes?  Me either, but it doesn’t take ANY stretch of imagination to see them talking trucks.  Isn’t that written in their DNA?

2.  The green broke horse:  Let’s just start by saying there is nothing “broken” on a green broke horse.  It isn’t “broken” like it doesn’t work.  And it’s not really green, unless it was just rolling in the manure…  A green broke horse is a horse in training.  This means it is inexperienced, or more like unexperienced.  Usually these are young horses with high energy and are a little ignorant to what they are doing.  Just think of your favorite T-ball team- a lot of energy but most of it is spent playing in the dirt.  Eventually they come around to learn the game and pull their weight.  And if they don’t, we trade them off the roster.

3.  Heading… or heeling… you choose!: Most often you hear these words together in reference to falling in love.  You know- head over heels?  But I’m not talking about that, although a branding would be a great place to pick up a cowboy!  When you are talking heading and healing with cowboys they are talking about roping.  There’s two ends on a calf to rope- the head (hence “heading”) or the back feet or heels (yep you got it, “heeling”).   I guess you could rope the front feet, but you really don’t have much control even though they are caught. 

4.  Roping a dogie:  (doh-gee) Don’t get caught thinking we are talking about The Rancher’s dog.  We are referring to the bovine species, not canine.  Put simply, a dogie is a calf without a momma.  I’m not sure how dogie ever got to be part of the Cowboy Jargon Dictionary, other than some cowboy long, LONG ago just started calling his motherless calves dogie.  These calves can make branding a little tricky when you have several ranches worth of cattle together.  Without knowing who the momma cow belongs to, we can only guess who the calf goes with.  Nobody wants to be the guy that put the wrong brand on the wrong calf!

5. “Drag ‘em to the fire”: Those are your instructions once you’ve caught your calf.  The cowboys drag the calf to the fire, where we have the branding irons set up, hot and ready to leave their mark.  A real fire in the middle of a corral with calves, cowboys, and horses sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.  It is if you’re not careful!  But how else do we get branding irons hot?  There are electric irons put there, but there aren’t a lot of electrical outlets amongst the sage brush!   But don’t imagine a big bon fire or even an open fire on the ground.  Back in the day they would dig a hole in the ground and light up the fire.  These days we have a not-so-fancy branding box with a burner (like the burner on a gas stove) to keep the irons hot.  Still plenty hot (I recommend watching your step) but not as likely to reach out a burn a cowboy!

I’d say the last bit of cowboy jargon you need to know is the call to “rustle up some grub,” but I’m pretty sure that you know what that means!  Now that you have some awesome cowboy vocab, you will be ready to get to work and definitely earn your dinner!


  1. Awww.....the lingo of the ranching life or the farming life. Unique and one of a kind. Makes you wonder how some of these words and phases did come about. Great post Allison!

    Thank you for linking this post up with the County Fair Blog Party!
    Laurie - Country Link