Have you seen the shirts with sayings such as, “What’s said in the corral, stays in the corral”?

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Freelance Writer
Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can foll...

Or: “That was my corral voice.”

Or: “I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to the cows.”

Those of us who have worked with cattle chuckle at these sayings. Our goal is to work cattle quietly and without commotion. Yet, sometimes cows don’t go exactly as you wish because cows would rather be left alone than sorted in a corral and run through a chute. Wouldn’t you? Once cattle get used to the routine, though, they tend to go along readily.

However, every once in a while, there’s that one cow. You know the one.


When you’re gathering cattle to bring them into the corral, she’s the one that sees a squirrel. (However, if she continues to see squirrels at every gather, she gets a nice trailer ride.)

Usually, she can be redirected with simple gestures: A raised hand, a horse repositioned to help guide her or a tip of a hat. But often accompanying each of these gestures is the grunt.

Sure, a cowboy or cowgirl may say, “Hey you! Keep moving!” but often an “Uhhhh-ahhh-errrr” guttural grunting noise helps. Parents direct a similar noise at toddlers about to make a poor decision. The parallel is obvious. With cattle, the grunt is deeper and louder because you want to get the cow’s attention without creating a ruckus on the back of a horse or four-wheeler.

A well-placed grunt coupled with a gentle swing of a cowboy hat works wonders when moving cattle. When the cow moves back into place, then there’s the grunt of contentment: “Ahhhhhh.”

It’s funny how we take pride in our cows the way we do our children. No one wants to be the ranch where gathering becomes a rodeo, the cows split in four different directions and then turn around to challenge you. That’s not good for anyone, including the cows. So, when our cows go where we want them to the first time, we sort of look around like, “Hey, did you see my cows? The leader saw the open gate right away, so they are obviously A+ cows.”

Of course, no one ever says this. No, instead, we get a gesture: a quick lift of the chin coupled with the rise of eyebrows, and the proud grunt: “Ehhhh.” In his head, the cowboy’s thinking, “Yep, those are my cows.”

Those moments are hopefully the norm for all of us, but if we are being honest, it doesn’t happen 100% of the time …

The last time we moved cows across the road, we had flaggers on both sides of the road, signs propped up to warn drivers and cowboys guiding them across. Yet, all of this didn’t stop Ms. Honda Civic! I mean, how could we be crossing the road when she was driving on it? The nerve of us. Ms. Honda Civic decided waiting five minutes was out of the question and drove through the middle of the cows. (Is it bad that I’m wondering if Ms. Honda Civic drove away with a “souvenir”?)

The cows parted like the Red Sea.

Cue the frustrated groan: “Haahhhh!”

Could Ms. Honda Civic hear? Of course not. But it was great stress relief in the moment. According to nurses, a well-timed groan brings stress relief! It might be an “Ugghhhh!” or a cry that sounds like a Sasquatch. The choice is up to you and what the circumstances dictate.

The cows were quickly ushered back together and across the road, so perhaps that groan helped them relieve stress as well. Well, that and the fact that our cows are well behaved. “Ahhh.”

Grunts and groans are not only great emotional communication and stress relief, but they are also universal. Speakers of any language understand them – even bovine!

Once those beautiful bovines are calmly chilling in the corral awaiting their turns to be processed, you might hear another noise. “Ha, ha, haaa.” In other words, the guffaw.

Now, the guffaw is downright perplexing. It’s a loud laugh, but when used in the context of cattle, one needs to assess the situation before responding. If the cowboy is in fact smiling, then feel free to guffaw with him. This is a joyful celebration of a positive occurrence, and it may be accompanied by a hoot and holler.

However, if the cowboy’s hat is on the ground or his horse is rearing, this is a terrible time to laugh. The worst. That guffaw likely means, “Well, that didn’t go well,” and is usually laughed between clenched teeth. That kind of guffaw means a cowboy is working his way out of a mess. The only appropriate response is to listen for any grunts and groans that follow and may provide clues. The cowboy may even supplement with gestures to help you determine whether to help – or not help.

The English language may be complex, but thank goodness for grunts, groans and guffaws when working cattle! They are easy to understand, right? Just a little hard to put on a T-shirt.