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Have Horse, Will Travel
Cow catcher Chet Peugh is everyman’s cowboy. He works cattle just about anywhere his horse and his pickup can take him. Peugh specializes in rounding up escaped cattle – cows on the run from busted fences, tipped over trucks, or tenderfoot rustlers. No gentle old cows here, just cattle on the loose that are hard to find and harder to corral.
  Peugh’s “Wild Cattle Catching Service” can be a godsend, sometimes a last chance, for cattlemen with lost or scattered herds. When his phone rings, he loads up his horse, and a half dozen tracking dogs and heads out to corner cattle on any range.
  “Finding and driving cattle in heavy timber or tall corn is a whole lot different from roping calves on an open range,” Peugh says. “It takes a tough horse, smart dogs, and a little cow psychology to bring ’em in.”
  On a recent roundup in Iowa, Peugh and his “crew” brought in 25 steers, one or two at a time, roaming corn and soybean fields across a 20-mile area. He used his standard recovery procedure, which includes collecting basic information from clients about numbers, breeds, size and search area. Next, he checks sightings from farmers and motorists and concentrates each drive on a suspected section of land. He releases two or three dogs to pick up the scent and ultimately to flush the confused cattle (in this case, 900-lb. black-baldies) down the row and out to the road. Peugh then ropes each steer and drives or drags him into his trailer.
  “Tracking cows in standing corn is a little like hunting raccoons,” he says. “The dogs pick up the cattle scent best when there’s a dew on. Once they lock onto a cattle trail, it doesn’t usually take the dogs long to bring them to a catch area.”
  Sometimes escaped cattle keep on running with the dogs in pursuit. When that happens, Peugh follows on horseback until the cattle come out into the open. He uses a hand-help GPS unit to monitor the location of his dogs. “We used to track the direction of the roundup mostly by the sound of the dogs barking,” Peugh says. “A little technology sure makes the job easier.”
  Roping a 900-lb. steer in a road ditch isn’t a job for drug store cowboys. Peugh, who once roped a stray 2,000-lb. bull, relies on skill and equipment. His heavy-duty saddle and trail-smart Morgan make the job easier and safer, but there have been close calls. On a recent chase, the dogs and horse held a steer at bay while Peugh hobbled the big guy. When a second steer charged and knocked him to the ground, he was able to mount his horse and rope and tie the second steer. He says it’s times like that when he needs his cell phone as much as his spurs.
  “It’s a rough and tumble business, not only for me, my horse and dogs, but also for the cattle,” Peugh says. “But it’s better than finding them on the hood of a schoolbus.”
  Illinois’ wild cattle catcher answers up to 100 emergency calls per year from desperate farmers and ranchers. Some calls involve spooked new arrivals, poor fences, and coyote attacks. Other escapes are caused by storm-damaged barns or truck rollovers when a speedy response reduces the chance for cattle-car accidents. His busy season is usually late summer when dense crop cover provides longterm food and shelter for cattle on the lam. Drovers on foot and in pickups are no match for camouflaged cattle.
  “Too many cowhands can spook cattle,” he says. “Sometimes it’s better to do some detective work rather than form a posse. A little extra planning also helps me take better care of my horse and dogs as well as the customer’s cattle.”
  Being patient can also extend a roundup over a period of several days, so Peugh doesn’t travel light. His trailer contains feed and water for his horse and dogs. He carries food and camping equipment in the pickup cab.
  Peugh has kept accounts of his over-the-road cowboying career. Besides working with beef producers, he’s dealt with attorneys, debated with insurance adjusters, and cooperated with safety and law enforcement people. He served as an expert witness in court for several “cattle damage” lawsuits. “Sometimes,” he says, “people are more unpredictable than cattle.”
  Peugh’s years of cowboying in all kinds of weather and terrain, along with a professional approach to handling escaped animals, have helped him chalk up a great “save record”. “Once in awhile a wild one gets away,” he says. “He becomes a ‘free runner’ and winds up on the loose or maybe over some hunter’s campfire. But for me and my horse and my dogs, the goal is to get ’em all.”
  Peugh charges clients according to mileage to the search site, time on the job, and number of cattle recovered. But he says there’s also a lot of plain old satisfaction watching a guy lock the gate on a pen of strays he helped round up.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Chet Peugh, 24459 Clark Rd., Chadwick, Ill. 61014 (ph 815 225-7810; www.wildcattlecatcher.com).

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2011 - Volume #35, Issue #6