You are here
Home > Community > Tribal cattle owners ship calves to feedlots

Tribal cattle owners ship calves to feedlots

Todd Johns herds a group of calves into place July 12, 2023, in Brighton. The calves were loaded onto a cattle truck headed for Oklahoma. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

July’s record-breaking heat did not deter 61 tribal cattle owners in Brighton and Big Cypress from shipping about 3,400 calves to feedlots in Western states during the annual calf shipping weeks
from July 10-20.

The calves, whose average weight at shipping was 481 pounds, typically remain at the feedlots until they reach about 1,350 pounds, when they will be sent to market.

Brighton’s pastures were busy on July 12 as calves from seven owners’ herds were rounded up and brought to the marsh pen, as temperatures reached into the mid-90s without a cloud in the sky to provide shade. Work started shortly after sunrise to prevent cattle and crew from overheating.

Kane Jumper and his dogs work together to get an wayward cow back into the pen at the Bowers pasture in Brighton, July 12, 2023. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Cattle owners and cowhands on horseback worked together to find the animals in the pasture and woods, moved them into the owner’s cow pens and then separated the calves from the cows. The calves were loaded onto cattle trailers and taken to Brighton’s marsh pens to be weighed, catalogued and loaded onto massive cattle semi-trailer trucks for the drive westward.

Cattle ranching is a family affair and in many families, every generation is involved. Melissa Gopher’s daughters Aponi Cochran, 7, and Leona Cochran, 6, helped unload calves from the cattle trailer and into the marsh pens. Both girls help with cattle every day, are members of the Seminole 4-H Club and are barrel racers in the rodeo.

Cattle owner Melissa Gopher (holding gate) gets some youthful help moving her calves off the cattle trailer. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“They get up with me at 5 a.m. and jump in the truck to help,” Gopher said.

In the marsh pens, cowboys worked on foot to herd the animals from pen to pen and ultimately onto the cattle truck. Before the animals are loaded onto the semi, they are weighed and information about them is logged into the records.

Working with unpredictable animals can be treacherous if an animal doesn’t go along with the herd. It’s the cowboy’s job to make sure every animal gets where it is supposed to be. Emma Urbina’s job is to keep track of every animal.

“I count them in and I count them out,” Urbina said. “I’ve been counting calves for at least 30 years.”

After the morning’s cows were hauled away, a hearty cowboy lunch was provided by the cattle owners’ families.

Emma Urbina counts calves as they are loaded onto a cattle truck headed for Oklahoma. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at