Men and women on horseback herd dozens of black cows through a residential neighborhood.
Sterling Ranch neighborhood hosts an annual cattle drive across its 3,400 acres to get the cows to their winter pasture in Douglas County. Credit: Photo by McKenna Harford

Cowboys and cattle traversed the streets of Sterling Ranch for the neighborhood’s third annual cattle drive, moving around 100 cows to their winter pasture in Douglas County.

Hundreds of residents watched from porches, driveways and sidewalks as the herd of Angus trotted across the 3,400-acre neighborhood, guided by about 20 riders from Roundup Riders of the West and Clough Cattle Company. 

Harold Smethills, founder of Sterling Ranch, said an important element of the neighborhood is its commitment to taking care of the land and preserving its history as a former cattle ranch. 

The cows and annual cattle drive are part of the community’s Prairie Management Plan, which helps guide the cultivation of the property. The cattle contribute to a healthy prairie ecosystem by fertilizing and aerating the land, as well as keeping the grass low to protect from predators. 

“Cattle drives are a longtime western tradition and grazing of cattle is a key part of the strategy of building a robust ecosystem and is part of the unique vision of Sterling Ranch where the community lives with nature,” Smethills said.

The herd will stay at Sterling Ranch until the spring, when they give birth to their calves, and then move to the summer pasture for rotational grazing. Smethills said last year there were about 200 calves born in the community.

Smethills said rotational grazing is part of the community’s fire mitigation strategy, with the cattle eating down potential fuel. About 50 cows were brought to Sterling Ranch a few weeks early this year to get a head start because the wet summer resulted in an abundance of tall grass, Smethills said.

“Cattle grazing might seem like it would have a minimal effect on fire mitigation, but in reality, these cows are devouring fire energy,” he said.

Though Smethills appreciates the environmental benefits of the cows, he said his favorite part of the cattle drive is seeing the excitement from residents and sharing his love for the livestock.

“The most important things for a community are those that bring people together so they can get to know each other,” he said. “The cattle are personalities and they’re magnificent animals and people really enjoy them.”

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