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A New Breed of Cowboy

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The sun breaks over the shrubby horizon, warming the Oklahoma landscape and setting the sky ablaze with the vibrant pinks and oranges of dawn. On the slight ridge that overlooks the cattle pastures of Oswalt Ranch, the cowboy surveys the fields from atop his trusty steed, a green four-wheeler ... wait a second! What happened to his horse?

Although I've always known that cattle ranching is no longer exactly like it was in the Old West days (even my suburban upbringing couldn't confuse me that badly), it still took me a moment to get used to the sight of the gentleman in the cowboy hat seated atop an ATV. The use of ATVs is just another example of how agriculture uses machines to increase the ease with which tasks can be done. This particular job was counting the steers in the pasture so we could be sure all the steers being used in Noble's study (one to investigate the effects of prescribed burning on grazing behavior) were accounted for.

Anya and I followed our four-wheeling cowboy in the Kubota, keeping our eyes peeled for the steers we were tasked with counting. Each section of the pasture held its own individual charm, a testament to the diversity of the landscape. However, navigating these lovely woods, fields and creek on our own is a bit more of a task than I would like to attempt. With every change of direction, I was more and more thankful we had the four-wheeler to follow. Horses or not, these cowboys at Noble possess an incredible skill set and the more time I spend with them, the more I respect all their work with the cattle that enables the research to proceed smoothly. All in all, the four-wheeler cowboy is an interesting twist to the story of the West.

Hope Wentzel is a 2013 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture from Alexandria, Va.