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Wyoming producer discusses pros and cons of working cattle with ATVs versus horseback

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Those who want to start a lively discussion among stockmen, should ask whether they prefer to gather, move, sort and/or handle cattle by horseback or with an ATV. Some are adamant about the virtues – and drawbacks – of one or the other, while others use both.  

Each method has its place, with advantages or disadvantages, depending on the situation.  

Utilizing four-wheelers

Jim Jensen of Lucky 7 Angus Ranch raises Angus in Wyoming and uses horses and four-wheelers in his cattle management.  

“For a long time, we just used horses. Then at one point, we needed to move some first-calf heifers about eight miles through sagebrush country at the base of the mountains,” he shared. “I needed to get them moved, and everyone I asked to help were too busy. Several days went by, so I decided to move them by myself.” 

“I took a four-wheeler and four dogs, and I had them up there two hours quicker than we’d ever gotten them up before with four or five of us on horseback,” added Jensen.

He noted this was the first time he had ever moved cattle with a four-wheeler.

“I put the dogs behind them and let the dogs herd them while I drove ahead, opened gates and turned them in the right direction,” he explained. “I realized we can move cattle with four-wheelers.” 


and disadvantages 

Jensen admitted problems can arise when using four-wheelers to work cattle, and there are times it would make more sense to saddle a horse.

First of all, it can be hard to sort cattle with a four-wheeler. This depends on the situation and whether cattle are in a big mob or spread out enough so a person can ease among them with a four-wheeler.  

“We sort first-calf heifers out of the cows in early fall to give them more advantage coming into winter,” Jensen noted. “I’ve often sorted them with a four-wheeler and it works, but you have to take your time and do it slow and easy.”  

The key, regardless of whether an individual is horseback or driving an ATV, is to ensure cattle don’t get too excited. 

Terrain is also a factor. Some areas are too rough to use an ATV, and horses are the only feasible way to gather or sort cattle. Also, if cattle are in wet pastures, ATVs can wear and tear pasture.  

“Grass is what we grow in the cattle business,” Jensen stated. “If people are out on four-wheelers on wet ground, it will a negative impact on the grass, knocking down a bunch each time they drive over it and making ruts in the ground.”  

“Other than that, ranchers can do just about everything on an ATV that they can do with a horse, except nearly everyone who gets on a four-wheeler chases cows too fast,” he pointed out. 

“When you’re out on a horse all day, you have to pace the horse and take cattle slow and easy,” he added. “But, if you’re on a four-wheeler, you may get carried away, chase them too fast and mess things up.”

Jensen admitted there have been times on his operation when he didn’t use horses enough – chasing cattle too fast on ATVs and making them wild. 

“We try to go slowly on a long drive so we don’t wear them out. But, it’s pretty easy for a person to get mad if cattle aren’t going the right direction or a cow is trying to get away  so they chase after them at high speeds. Soon, their cows will get too wild and flighty,” he explained.

Finding a balance 

Jensen now tries to use horses more when needed and is working to be as efficient as possible with both horses and four-wheelers, without having an adverse impact on his cattle.

“Sometimes it’s easier to run up to a pasture on a four-wheeler and move the cows, but we also try to use commonsense and not push them hard,” he shared. “We try to stay back and let the dogs work a little. When it’s better to use a horse, we use a horse.”  

Jensen reiterated there can be a balance.  

“We went from no four-wheelers – which wasn’t efficient – to too much use of four-wheelers and too fast. This worked until we screwed up our cows and got them too wild. Now we’ve come to a better balance,” he remarked.

To run an agriculture operation efficiently, producers should take advantage of available tools.  

“For best efficiency, I believe you have to use four-wheelers, but you need to use them wisely,” stated Jensen. “On the other hand, unless your place is just meadow pastures and you merely need to open a gate to move cows from one pasture to another, there are times you definitely need a horse.”

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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