COW FOLKS KNOW-HOW by Darrell Arnold

davemPictured: David McCall; read more below


by Darrell Arnold

The task we perform is not simple
The way to learn how long and rough
We’re men of the land, that’s for certain
Hard working, God fearing, and tough

We’re ranchers, we’re cowboys, we’re people
God blessed with a love for the land
With horses and cattle we use it
With God’s help we rise and we stand

By readin’ the sky in the distance,
By catchin’ a scent in the air
By hearin’ and feelin’ the wind pickin’ up
We know that a storm’s comin’ near

We know how to study the grasses
We know by their color and look
The unprinted signs to change ranges
Writ large in the great cowboy book

We know what a range cow is sayin’
When she glances back toward the brush
Her baby’s back there somewhere, hidin’
Get close and she’ll charge in a rush

We know that a cow might be ailin’
But her step or the droop of her head
That brindle cow’s bag shows mastitis
Come mornin’ she’ll prob’ly be dead

We know to match pairs before leavin’
After movin’ the herd to new ground
Or they’ll try to go back to the old place
Where last a calf’s drink could be found

We understand how to read horses
Who talk just by licking their lips
Or cocking one ear your direction
Or clamping their tails ‘gainst their hips

Start a colt in a hack or a snaffle
But don’t ride him much till he’s four
Let his mind and his body develop
Have a good horse for many years more

We have to know somethin’ ‘bout shoein’ —
Hang iron but don’t cripple your mount
At the gate don’t lose track of the tally
On the palm of your hand write the count

We know just enough about vet work —
C-section a cow in distress —
Or doctor a wound on your pony
He’ll heal if you give it your best

We know that these critters will hurt us
There’s no doubt that our turn will come
Scars and broke bones are a given
It happens to all, not just some

The cows feed our bellies and bank rolls
The horses are good for the soul
We first tend the needs of the critters
Then care for ourselves last of all

But, slowly, the cattle and horses
Will teach us the knowledge we need
Their lives are what we all depend on
All part of the cowboy’s creed.

© 2019, Darrell Arnold
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Darrell Arnold, poet, photographer, and the editor of the much-missed Cowboy Magazine, shares this recent poem. We asked him to tell us about the inspiration for the poem and to bring readers up to date on what he’s doing now, and he replied:

I set out to write a poem about the highly exalted cowboy. It included a few verses about vaqueros and Californios and buckaroos, all told in first person cowboy and kinda braggin’ about being an elite kind of person that other men wanted to be. I soon realized that what I had was two poems in one. I extracted the braggin’ verses and made it into a cowboy-around-the-fire drinkin’ song called “We Are The Highly Exalted.” The verses I had left became “Cow Folks Know-how,” about the knowledge one gains while tending cattle. Noted cowboy poet Terry Nash said the poem was “stocked with truth.” I took that as a high compliment.

As for myself, I’ve moved from Colorado to northern Arizona and am editing The Corriente Corresponder, a newsletter of the North American Corriente Association. I am also writing poems in a style that makes them easy to set music to, and am then sending them to friends who are cowboy/cowgirl singers. Those singers are turning them into songs. I currently have eight works out with Randy Huston, Jean Prescott, and Tom Hiatt. Tom recorded “Cow Work” for his Goodnight from Texas album, after reading it at and realizing it fit in with his other two tribute songs to noted Nevada buckaroo and author Mackey Hedges. The trilogy appears on that CD.

Jean Prescott and I won the Western Writers of America 2018 song- of-the-year award for “The Pitchfork Grays.” That same song garnered a song-of-the-year award from the International Western Music Association in the same year. It is my hope that, a hundred years from now, there might be a cowboy singer out there somewhere singing one of my songs and wondering, “Who in the hell was Darrell Arnold?” I have also written a lot of poetry that isn’t song material, and I hope, eventually, to publish that collection in a second book of poems.

Find more about Darrell Arnold and Cowboy Magazine (with a comprehensive list of issues; there are complete sets and some single issues are available) at He also has a book, The Cowboy Kind, which he says “…contains photos and interviews with cowboy folks I’ve written stories about for both Western Horseman and Cowboy Magazine,” and a collection of 49 poems, Cowboy Poultry Gatherin’.

Pictured above is popular cowboy and New Mexico rancher David McCall. In this 2011 photograph, he is shown on Pardner, son Rusty McCall’s (1986-2013) horse, and with Blue. The McCall family comes from a long line of cowboys and ranchers, and all current generations, including award-winning Deanna Dickinson McCall, write and recite cowboy poetry. Read her poem written about the same time as this photo was
taken and mentions Pardner, “For Rusty,” at

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and post with this post, but for any other other uses, request permission.)