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2018-04-11 / South Texas Living

Cowboys, cattle, and the Colorado River

Ranch continues cattle drive tradition on Matagorda Island
By Jeralyn Novak


Continuing a century-old tradition ... Cowboys with the Huebner Brothers Cattle Co. drive cattle across the Colorado River April 3. 
JERALYN NOVAK/BEEFMASTER BREEDERS UNITED Continuing a century-old tradition ... Cowboys with the Huebner Brothers Cattle Co. drive cattle across the Colorado River April 3. JERALYN NOVAK/BEEFMASTER BREEDERS UNITED It was a sight straight from tales of the Old West.

Huebner Brothers Cattle Co. of Bay City has been driving its cattle across the Colorado River from their winter pastures on the 11-mile Matagorda Island, which runs from Matagorda to Port O’Connor, for more than 100 years. The part where the cattle cross the river is about 200 yards across and 15 feet deep, just at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico.

Before the cattle are driven across the island and across the river, the cowboys rope the smallest calves and load them in a trailer so they can ship them across on a river barge.

Most of the calves can make the swim across the river, but we were on boats prepared to help the calves that struggled with the swim or got confused and swam the wrong way. No cows or calves were lost from the drive or swim.


Cattle lifeguards ... A struggling calf is helped to safety during the annual cattle drive. No animal was lost in the April 3 swim. 
JERALYN NOVAK/BEEFMASTER BREEDERS UNITED Cattle lifeguards ... A struggling calf is helped to safety during the annual cattle drive. No animal was lost in the April 3 swim. JERALYN NOVAK/BEEFMASTER BREEDERS UNITED On April 3, I was there capturing images and video for Beefmaster Breeders United and got to experience this cattle drive and swim — which is the oldest cattle drive in Texas — firsthand, and even rescued calves from the swim across the river.

The ranch runs Beefmaster and Beefmaster-influenced cows for their hardiness, fertility, and growth. This summer the cows and calves will graze at the ranch’s headquarter pastures in Bay City.

Jeralyn Novak is the communications coordinator with Beefmaster Breeders United.

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