Not Your Typical Gig: Cowboy

In this recurring column, Not Your Typical Gig, we interview men with out-of-the-box careers to get a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes of their unusual jobs. 

NAME: Thomas B. Saunders V
AGE: 59
CITY: Weatherford, Texas
COMPANY: Twin V Ranch

How would you describe what you do for a living?

I supply America with beef, and in the process, I’m making a living for my family by providing for my wife and putting my children through college. I’m trying to perpetuate my profession onto my future generations. It’s a lot more than just raising cattle. It’s a way of life. 

Yes, we have cows, we have calves, we have yearlings, we produce rodeos, and we raise a lot of good horses, but in the process, we raise our families. We show them how to take care of animals, be good stewards of the land, how to survive all kinds of weather, to love their mother, and to cherish their heritage. It’s important. 

You got to have a cause fit to fight for, and you need to be fit enough to fight for that cause.

How long have you been doing this?

I have been doing this my whole life, and when I was old enough to go, I went. I’m 59 years old, and I was born to it.

How did you get into this line of work?

I am the sixth generation of my family to run cattle and horses in Texas. The five generations of Saunders before me ran cattle and horses, and that’s all we’ve ever known.

What kind of skillset does it take to break into this line of work?

It’s not easy to do what we do, and it never has been. It takes a lot of perseverance—you need to be able to get up earlier and stay later. You need to be able to work well with your hands, be fast on your feet, and quick to think. It certainly isn’t a 9-5 job. It’s the can till we can’t. 

On our ranch, we do most of our cattle work horseback. The reason we have horses is because we have cattle. You need to learn how to rope, how to ride, and you need to learn how to read stock. It takes skill to know what a cow is telling her calf. It’s not easy, and if you aren’t prepared to work hard and learn, then you should probably get a job in town.

What does your workday look like from the time you wake up?

It’s early till late for us. My mother is 85 years old and still cooks us breakfast every morning at 6:30. We get our daily chores done, and work until we’re done. Depending on the time of year we sometimes finish early and every man’s time is his own; and in the busy times of the year, we stay until we run out of daylight. Wherever we quit that day is where we pick up the next day.

What is the most exciting, if possibly dangerous part of your job?

In the spring we start our colts and it can be fairly dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. We take it seriously, and a man has to have his head on straight and have a deep respect for horses to be able to handle them. Handling cattle can be dangerous, especially gathering up bulls in the heat of the summer. Bulls can be pretty rank and hard to handle in the heat, so you need to have a man next to you that knows what his job is and where to be. Dangers don’t really bother us a lot.

Favorite part of the job?

Probably things that everybody else thinks are dangerous.

Least favorite part of the job?

Managerial tasks like office work, doing the books, etc. and anything that gets in the way of cowboyin’.

How has the pandemic affected your job?

To tell the truth, it hasn’t. Our work hasn’t slowed down. It didn’t change us much other than the cattle market affecting prices of beef, and the workers in the processing plants being infected causing a plant to shut down, which hurt the market as well.

Please tell us about a moment that made you love your job even more?

Springtime is a big time for us. It’s fun to see things green up, flowers are blooming, cows are calving, and we’re branding all the new calves. We’ll brand in the morning and ride our colts in the evening, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Are there aspects of the job that made you think—this is crazy, why am I doing this?

Yes, sometimes you work 8 days a week to try and make everything go right, and you have things just like you want it as far as the key components of your business is concerned–all your cows are bred, you get every calf on the ground and healthy, you get them to weaning, and you grow them to 750 lbs, and they don’t sell for enough at market to cover what it costs to get them to that point. That’s very disappointing, and it’s a shame that we don’t have control over our own destiny.

What does the job require you to wear?

I wear handmade boots by Clay Miller at Ramblin’ Trails Boot Company in Fort Worth, Texas. I wear Wrangler jeans and shirts, and I wear an American hat. To tell the truth, as far as being a cowpuncher goes, as long as you got the top covered with the right hat in the right manner, and you’ve got a pair of boots on that compliment you and are a comfort to your feet, whatever comes together in the middle really doesn’t make much difference.

What essentials does the job require? 

You need to have a pair of leggings/leather chaps, a pair of spurs, a lariat rope, a good horse, a good saddle that fits the horse you’re riding, and a bridle and bit that fits right for the horse so that horse can perform to excellence. Bits, saddles, and leather goods for a cowboy are like jewelry for anybody else.

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