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End of the road for cattle drives?

First there was the sound.

Cowboys were out there somewhere behind a line of trees, rounding up 400 head of Black Angus cattle.

But as Friday dawned gray and threatening rain along a remote stretch of University Parkway, there was only the sound of gusting wind.

Then came an undercurrent to the wind: the faint sound of bawling cattle.

Slowly, as with a swelling symphony, the sound of the cattle grew louder, accompanied by the barking of dogs and the shouts of men.

Then you saw them, maybe a mile away, seven cowboys driving a dark herd eastward along the highway. The older cattle seemed to know the drill and stayed with the herd, but some of the calves darted away, running like deer. One or two cowboys would give chase and bring the calves back.

“The calves don’t understand what’s going on. Sometimes they will outrun your horse,” said a cowboy.

When the herd reached a metal cattle gate, the cowboys did something that might be unimaginable in a few years. They opened it and drove the herd south across University Parkway to other pastures and work pens.

A few years ago, this stretch of University Parkway was completed to provide a front entrance to the Jack Nicklaus-Tony Jacklin golf community The Concession.

Today, there is little traffic on that stretch of highway. But there will be more.

As the cattle streamed across the highway, the rooftops of million-dollar homes were visible in the west at The Lake Club and in the east at The Concession. And there are plans for Springbok Academy, a sports training facility and spa, just to the east of The Lake Club.

The cattle drive skirted stacked plastic pipe along the south side of the highway. Next week, heavy machinery will excavate along the shoulder of the road for a reclaimed water project.

Jason McKendree, cattle manager for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Farms, said the cattle drive had to be moved up to avoid the pipe project.

“You kind of have to work with them,” McKendree said of the coexistence of a working ranch with a growing residential and business area.

Mac Carraway, vice president of SMR Farms, said when the day comes that cattle drives across roadways become impossible, the Ranch will have to trailer cattle from pasture to pasture, a more costly proposition.

“It’s process of adaptation for what’s going on around us,” Carraway said.

As the herd paused on the south side of the highway, the young calves bunched up and looked on with bewilderment at the cowboys, while the older cows seemed to take the morning’s events in stride, grazing on the fresh green grass.

The cowboys rode forward, and the herd retreated to the south, to another line of trees. Finally, there was only the sound of the gusting wind, and the retreating calls of cattle in the distance.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be reached at 708-7916.