Although Brandon Gigout has been working cattle for the public for more than one-third of his life, he characterizes himself as a hand not a cowboy.
“I can’t call myself a cowboy because that title is earned not given—and it doesn’t come easy,” he said. “I’ve met a whole lot of folks who have more experience, skills and cow knowledge than me. For me, it’s a respect thing.”
The Smithville native’s introduction to day work, the term used to describe short-term jobs that require a cowboy’s skills, through his dad, who worked cattle on his days off from his full-time job.
“I am the first one in our family to take it to this level,” he said. “In high school, I started to make my own connections.”
Initially, he worked primarily in Bastrop County. He was mentored by Troy Lee Townsend, a well-known local cattleman. To pay his way through Texas A&M, he expanded his network and began ranging throughout the Brazos Valley including Lee, Burleson, Brazos and Washington counties, across the Lone Star State and into Oklahoma.
“I also went to Colorado,” Gigout said. “I rode pens in a feed lot and I spent time on a 40,000-acre ranch, where we on one occasion we drove 2,300 head more than 24 miles.”
Two-and-a half years ago a referral from a Bastrop County customer led him to a job with Scarmardo Cattle Company, a cattle brokerage and order buying service, in Caldwell. No day is ever the same: he processes cattle, doctors sick animals, rides pens and pastures, loads trucks, and picks up cattle from one of the 80 auction markets the company frequents.
“Last week, I worked 78 hours,” he said. “You don’t get into the cattle industry if you’re afraid of work.”
“I was up and going before daylight this morning,” he said. “I have no idea when I’ll get home tonight, but it will be way after dark.”
As is often the case in the ag industry, the long hours don’t necessarily equal a big paycheck.
“Some days, I think about trading it all in for a desk and a suit,” Gigout said. “It might be easier, but it wouldn’t be me. There’s a passion for this lifestyle, the animals and the land that is hard to explain unless you’re living it.
“Who knows, maybe walking with a limp makes me feel like a man,” he said laughing.
RTR: What appeals to you about being a cowboy?
Brandon Gigout: There’s a pride aspect—it’s not something that everybody can do, although at one time or the other a lot of people dreamed about being a cowboy. It’s dangerous, but fun, so there’s an adrenaline rush.
And you have to have compassion. When I pull a calf (assist in the birthing process) and save it and its mother, it’s an almost overwhelming sense of awe and wonder.
There’s a bond between people who do it. They generally don’t have much, but they’ll give you the shirt off their back and you can take their word to the bank.
And there’s a sense of responsibility and again pride that comes with feeding America. Without guys like me, there wouldn’t be food on people’s tables. At the end of the day, you know you’ve worked hard, done your part, so there’s a deep satisfaction that comes from that.
RTR: What are the must-have skills?
Brandon Gigout: Patience and a mellow head. You can get yourself in a big wreck real quick if you don’t have a mellow head and don’t take the time to pay attention and think.
RTR: What do you carry with you if you’re penning cattle?
Brandon Gigout: A solid horse, a good saddle, a string of well-trained dogs, two stocked medicine bags, at least one rope–unless I expect to doctor something and then I carry two. And if I’m going on a long drive where we’ll be in the back country a revolver tied to my D-ring. My saddle probably weighs a hundred pounds with everything I tie to it.
RTR: Why does Texas need cowboys?
Brandon Gigout: Obviously, nobody would be eating chicken fries or ribeyes in cafes or throwing burgers on the grill without cowboys. But more than that…cowboys are our icons. Texas needs cowboys like grass needs rain.
Photos by Macy Lange