When Work Is Play, Life Is Good!

As I was getting on My flight in Billings, I told Dave the United gate attendant that I was on my first paid vacation of the year.  He thought someone was paying me for vacation time.

I flew to Tampico, Mexico, stayed the night there and then rode down to the town of Tamuín and went right to work the next morning.  I had been to both feedyards that we would work at a year or so ago, so I new the operations and some of the workers.

I was told they both feed 150,000 head in each yard, graze 25,000 to 50,000, and both have slaughter plants that kill 1100/ day.

We went to all the processing areas, hospitals, slaughter facility’s and grazing cells.  They had made some of the changes we visited about last time.


It was four intense days of work that started early and working with lots of people in lots of different styles of facilities.  I’ll share some things that were interesting to me.

They are using an US feedlot model and a Brazil style grazing system.  I think they are making lots of money per head as the cattle are cheap and very green (thin).  The grazing system gets the cattle straightened out and going and the feedlot puts the finish on.  They don’t have the quality of cattle we do to finish like we want in the US and Canada, but the Mexican customer doesn’t use that kind of quality anyway.  Labor is cheap, cattle are cheap, and they have management in place that understands how to get the most out of the system.  From what I can see, it is like having a printing press for Mexican money.  I asked if drug money was involved.  They said no way, this was much better and they were against that.  The feedlots are separately owned by two brothers that compete with each other.


I went with the shipping crew to bring cattle to slaughter house.  It’s about a half mile, and you take the cattle out of the pens and in an alley back to the plant.  It was fun to get horseback with a fellow that doesn’t speak English and trot off in the dark in the middle of Mexico and just go to it.  I have been working on my Spanish and could communicate a little.  This guy was a good hand and we both rode back after the first pen went into the slaughter pens with no problems,  we new we could both work together well even if we couldn’t talk much.  A good hand is a good hand, and it doesn’t matter where you are and what language, it makes working so much better to work with a good hand.

They doctor most of the cattle in the pens, except in the hospital area.  All the pens have shade, so there are posts in the middle of the pen.  The cattle are more gentle than you would think, so it’s easy to get them roped.  They neck them then take them to a post and get the neck on one side and the rope on the other and hold them, sometimes they take a wrap on the post.



The other guy has his medicine all in a homemade sack on his saddle and rides up and gives a injection of treatment in neck, ear tag, and a chalk mark(all done horseback) then takes a hook and puts it under the rope and hooks to post or his horn and the roper turns his dally’s loose and the rope comes off and he goes to get another one.

They switch each day from roping to doctoring. They use a Mexican charro style saddle with no back chinch or breast collar and long ropes that are not the greatest quality.  They throw regular overhand  and Houlihan shots, miss like anyone else, but they have to take a good shot and set them up as their horses are not going to get them in position to do much fancy stuff.(more on that later)

I feel this is a very effective way for them to treat sick cattle.  They don’t have drovers alleys so they have to take cattle to the feed alley and there are always bunches of cattle being move somewhere so they would be mixed.  The type of cattle, even when close to finish are not as strong and don’t fight as much as our cattle  in the north.  It saves so much time not having to take the animal out, take to hospital, treat and then go home.  They never leave the pen and are treated very quickly, and if things went right, they had less stress than one in a chute if you look at the whole picture.

I think backgrounding lots could use this same method if they had the right crew that could get her done right.

I really wanted to get in on the action in the pen.  Next time.

Another part of the feedlot is on the other side of the highway and there is a guy there that I watched last time and he is very good at all his jobs.  He didn’t say much, but appreciated some of the changes I got done for him last time and asked for some more this time.  He knows what he needs and how to get it done.

We went to a processing area with a tub and they were working real well.  They put the correct number in the tub at the correct time to really get a nice flow.

They were the only tub that I didn’t suggest taking less cattle to the tub.

We visited a processing area that had a Bud Box and Danials double alley system.  The guy that was bringing cattle was the best I ever saw in the box.

He really worked great and if one was a little on the fight he would just work from the outside.  It was a pleasure to watch him and I told him I was a little nervous to work it as I couldn’t work it as good as him.  It was like the cattle wanted to walk by him and up the chute.

Ithink the place we had the biggest impact was the plant and taking cattle from the holding pens to the know Box.  They were taking 15 head and having lots of trouble.  I got the new manager to let me try some different ideas.  I got them to wait until there was  room out of the tub and brought five.  We put about twenty drafts in and they worked real good.  I showed the bow that was bringing them from the pens how to put more pressure on from the side and the cattle really responded.  When we were done they were real happy as they had been having lots of trouble.  I told them I was getting the credit, but I really was doing what Temple Grandin says all the time.


We had been at a Bud Box the day before and they weren’t getting along as good.  I asked if I could do it and took less than half as many cattle and it worked good.  We had everyone that had come to watch work the box and they really did good.  There was one zebu bull that was on the fight and kept running back and putting them on the fence before they could get the box gate closed.

I asked if I could work him and they had no problem with it.  I actually took a few more cattle to use them as a barrier and help get him in the box and the gate closed.  I sent some cattle between me and the hookey one and he was forced to go in the double alley.  Just as he was about to be past the no back and I was pressuring the other cattle so he couldn’t come out and get me, another one hit me from the back with one horn and and about knocked me down.  He ran right up and in the lead up.  The only thing that happened was my nice Greeley Hat ended up in the manure, and I don’t think it will ever be the same color.  I had a little welt on my back, and was much more aware of the other cattle as I loaded the box.

We finished up the last day going to some of the grazing units and watching them treat cattle.  They did one bunch in the center of the pivot.  Mexican common sense was used by tying a las rope to the gate and guiding the cattle to treat in with it as they were all electric fence broke.

The next place we went didn’t have a chute and they head and healed everything.  They would get them roped, tie off short and doctor.  Their horses just put there head down and ate and held.

That is really the only disappointment I had.  The horses are wore out and have cinch sores and open wounds from spurring them.  They don’t move and aren’t very handy to stop and turn.  

I don’t like it from an animal welfare side, but also you can’t have good stockmanship if you can’t get your horse in the proper place at the proper time.

The guys on foot are much more effective. I told the bosses last time and again this time that the horses were a problem and it was not right.  If you can’t move you can’t be a good stockman and you resort to noise and fear.  Bad becomes normal.

Every one at both yards were great to work around.  I try to show a lot of respect to them, because I really respect them and the work they do.  I think we made some real helpful changes, mostly in the number of cattle they try to work.

The Zoetis Team led by Horacio Herrera, with Estaban and Alberto always helping and working with the crews.  We worked hard, laughed hard, and ate really good.  The food at the restaurants was good, but I really enjoyed it when they would bring breakfast and lunch out to the feedyard .  They always had a big metal pot of coffee.  It is so good as it is boiled in the pot and the grounds strained out.  They boil sugar right with it so it is sweet.  I just about foundered on Gorditas and and home made salsa verde.  At lunch one day they brought tamales in a big old metal pot.  One kind was in banana leaves and another in corn husks.



It wouldn’t work without Lulu Rivera.  She is the interpreter.  She has these ear pieces that she gives to everyone and then she says what I say(at least I think she does).  She is great at her job and fits right in with everyone and has lots of fun.

I know there are lots of opinions and thoughts on Mexico and the wall right now.

They think it is crazy, but I told them they should be in favor of it.  I don’t think they will improve their quality of life by coming to higher wages.  They are such committed family people and are happy to get by with what they have.  They are poor in one way and rich in other ways.  I really admire and enjoy the Mexican people I have got to be around.

Maybe we should become more like them where Faith and Family are more important than the car you drive or the jeans you wear.

I feel real safe because of the people I am around take care of me.  I’m not so sure it would be if we were in a big city or I had know idea of good or bad places and people.

I hope I get to go back soon and learn and share some more.  They are really good and strive to be better.

So back to the paid vacation.  If you are having fun, seeing new things, learning about another culture and eating real well and enjoying what you are doing all day, I call that a vacation, and I was lucky enough to get payed.  It’s going to be a good year!

6 thoughts on “When Work Is Play, Life Is Good!

    1. curtpate Post author

      Thank you. That is what I was trying to do is share what I got to experience, so I really appreciate you saying so.

  1. Melodie Chan

    It’s such a joy to feel how much you enjoy what you are doing through your words. Your authenticity and genuine appreciation for different cultures comes through in your stories. I laughed at your “just about foundered” comment.

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