Tribute to the feed sack

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Delbert TrewDelbert Trew
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Tow sack
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Gunny sack
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The feed sack

The feed sack, often called a tow sack or gunny sack, ranks right up there with baling wire and duct tape as one of the things I would most hate to do without in my early ranching days.

Recently, I ran across a forgotten bundle of the jute-made sacks while cleaning out the ranch ‘cake’ or feed house, constructed from a railroad boxcar some-time back in the 1920s.

In the old days, before the switch to paper sacks and the increased use of bulk feed storage, live-stock feed always came packed in 100-pound feed sacks.

Down through the years, cowboys and ranch owners groaned at the sound of an air horn announcing the arrival of a semi-truck loaded with ‘cake’ or other feeds. Truck drivers were notorious for waiting until late in the evening to deliver, hoping to catch someone home to help them unload the feed. Having to help with such a chore after a hard day’s work on the range made for many a sore back among cowboys.

Empty feed sacks were tough, light-weight and efficient, plus they could be recycled. If sorted for holes, counted into bundles of 25 or 50, stacked with tops together and tied with two baling wire bands for handles, they were worth money to the ‘sack man.’ He came around twice a year, just before Christmas and in late spring, buying back sacks for the feed mill.

Tight ranchers used the sack money to help pay feed bills, others let the cow-boys have it as a bonus for good work. The really smart ones turned it over to the women of the family. This kept everyone happy and helped ensure extra homemade pies and hot rolls through-out the year.

Aside from their bi-annual income potential, feed sacks were considered a , staple among ranch supplies. They had many uses. The cull sacks, which had holes, made excellent doormats for wiping muddy feet or cleaning cloths for a newborn calf, colt, pig or puppy.

We also ‘sacked out’ young colts by tying sacks on their tails and to their saddle stirrups and by waving the sacks gently in front of them. This trained the horses to remain calm in the face of strange movements and sights.

A sack hanging in the saddle house kept all leather remnants together for needed repairs. Elsewhere on the ranch, sacks held grease rags, trash, branding irons, water-gapping tools and other supplies.

They were great for stuffing into holes in pickup seats, too.

In early history, a cowboy on the move stowed his saddle and gear in a gunny sack. During hard times, the sacks also were used as saddle blankets, and a cinch could be made with binder twine and a folded sack. Pillows and bedrolls routinely were padded with sacks on old-time trail drives.

I picked up the forgotten bundle of sacks and a mouse ran out, demonstrating one more use for these utilitarian items.

As I tossed the bundle on the trash truck, I thought about all the feed sacks that played important roles on the Trew Ranch, and I knew that these were the last. The old jute feed sacks had gone the way of the wagons, the open range and the six-shooters in the Texas countryside. FC

– Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail:

Farm Collector Magazine
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