Roger Williams of St. Paul, Minn., left, sorts a numbered animal while his teammate Lisa Brinkman of Sturgis, S.D., guards the gate at the Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island, Neb., in 2005.

AP Photo/The Grand Island Independent, Barrett Stinson

Cattle Sorting

Cattle sorting's name says a lot: On a fundamental level, the activity involves cowboys riding on horseback and sorting cows. Team sorting involves two cowboys, and it derives from traditional cattle herding.

To start, the cowboys are faced with a herd of 10 calves, with each calf numbered zero to nine. A judge then calls out a number. Say the judge calls out "three." The riders will then begin sorting the cattle, moving them from one pen to another, beginning with the number three calf and moving on sequentially.

Order is essential, which is why one contestant will focus on isolating the appropriate calf while the other makes sure that the remaining calves don't move prematurely into the other pen. If a calf gets through to the other pen before its turn, the sorting team is disqualified, though only for that particular round of competition. The riders must herd as many calves as possible to the other pen -- in order -- within 60 seconds.

In ranch sorting, a variant of cattle sorting, there are 12 cows, with 10 numbered from zero to nine and two remaining unnumbered. The unnumbered cows are called dirties. The dirties are supposed to remain in the original pen, while the contestants herd the numbered cattle, in order, from one 60-square-foot (5.6-square-meter) pen to another, channeling them through a 12-foot-long (3.6-meter-long) passage. Ranch sorting can be done with up to three riders on a team and one or two dirties. The size of the pens and the passage between them may also vary.

Now that we've established some of the rules of cattle sorting, let's see what penning entails.