Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sleepless In Fredericksburg

Recently and on several occasions our dogs uncharacteristically  and noisily have awakened us during the course of a night. When we have one of these disturbed nights, the number of nocturnal awakenings may run to five or six episodes. I might add it is impossible to ignore the high pitched, demanding yelp of a young Border collie. Two dogs then head for the back door and bound out in full attack mode. Only last night did the reason for their strange behavior and our resulting sleeplessness come clear to us.

Trudy and I were awakened last night by our six month-old Border collie, Bella, and our seven year-old Border, Buddy. For some reason Trudy went out into the yard with the dogs and observed them charging the fence, barking furiously.

It was then that Trudy heard what it was that had upset them- the yapping and howling of a band of coyotes. Indoors the coyote sounds are inaudible to humans, but our dogs with their acute sense of hearing must have heard them. Trudy estimated five to six coyotes although making estimates from their howls are often inaccurate.

So it went the remainder of the night with Bella and  Buddy demanding to go outside. Incidentally our third dog, Jack, of indeterminate pedigree (when asked what he is, Trudy responds, “he’s a small brown dog”) never left the comfort of our bed. Jack likes his creature comforts and is loathe to leave the pillow-top mattress short of his bladder nearly bursting. Suspect Jack heard the yapping and howling but determined that he would stay back and act as the rear guard. I imagine the impish canine thinking, well I’ll just wait here snuggled down in the blankets at the foot of the bed in case the coyotes come charging through the back door.

Fortunately coyotes have not been a common occurrence on our ranch. Once though shortly after moving full-time to the ranch, I was awakened in the wee hours by Bandit, our senior Border collie, howling back sounding just like a coyote. He had his head thrown back, his neck arched, and managed a convincing coyote howl and from a distance of not more than a foot from my ear. Needless to say, I awoke with quite a start.

I don’t worry much about our livestock and predators. Mama cows take good care of their calves and can fend off coyotes. Likewise horses protect themselves well and are safe from coyotes. Neighbors who raise sheep and goats have not fared as well. Last year twelve lambs (the entire crop) were taken by predators (most likely coyotes). Since then our neighbor rancher has invested in a Llama and a donkey.

I have another friend whose old Labrador retriever was mauled several years ago by a pack of coyotes. Floppy was torn up pretty good and had to visit the veterinarian. While coyotes usually are only 30 pounds or so, they are wild and fight in packs.

A few years ago we had watched the sunset from the other side of the valley and were sipping a bit of the grape when suddenly out of the darkness came nearby coyote howls. Our three Border collies who had been dozing at our feet immediately charged off into the dusk, giving us a very bad moment. As it turned out the coyotes fled before the three charging,  overly protective Borders; however, the outcome could have been much worse.

So at least we now know what it is that is disturbing the two dogs. Frankly their howls do not even appear to affect Jack’s sleep. Jack is the proverbial lump in the bed. If anyone has an answer other than me sitting in a chair by the fence with a rifle and a spotlight, please let me know. You see, I, like Little Jack, also appreciate my creature comforts.

Thoughts on Les Miserables

I have for days been under the spell of the screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Trudy and I had previously enjoyed this on stage and were anxious to see the screen version. We packed up and headed off for Kerrville since our local cinema has closed (seems the owner took off with the gal behind the snack bar).

The movie has so many moving themes: selfless love, idealism, struggle against tyranny, and redemption. The production is set prior to the French Revolution amidst the squalor of the poor people of France. Amazing how the makeup artist  made the usually dazzling Anne Hathaway appear pedestrian if not downright off putting. The strongest aspect of the production is in my opinion the music. It is uplifting, stirring, and haunting.

Not to say the movie was perfect. The makers of the film went for star appeal with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Ann Hathaway as opposed to great singing talents. The exception is the lady who played Eponine who was incredible. Early in the movie, I was a little disappointed, especially by Jackman’s and Crowe’s singing abilities (accept  this criticism from one who can’t carry a tune in a water trough). Nevertheless, Ann Hathaway’s final song will absolutely touch your soul. She is angelic. There was not a dry eye in the house. Take a handkerchief.

Many years ago after my family watched a stage production, I asked  each of them to whom they related. Trudy said she related to Fontine- the selfless mother, Andy’s related most to the gallant young Marius (CORRECTION- Andy says it was one or two other characters not Marius to whom he identified, still different from the other family members), and Katie identified more with Cosette, the beloved child of Fontine and love interest of Marius. I naturally related to the father figure, Jean Valjean who maintained his promise to the dying Fontine to love and watch over the beloved Cosette.

Maybe this is why Les Miserables had been so incredibly successful. It offers so many appealing characters to whom the audience can relate. Les Miserables remains my all time favorite musical.

I strongly recommend this film. Do yourself a favor and see it- but don’t forget the handkerchief.

–Tom Hutton

A Snow and a New Calf

We have a small sign at the entrance to our ranch that says a good rain and a new calf are always welcome. Since calves are the mainstay of cow/calf operations and rain makes the grass grow, the sign makes sense.IMG_0067Well the other night to our amazement we received a couple of inches of snow. This is rare around Fredericksburg. As our cows seem to always wait until the weather is at its absolute worst , the next morning I predictably found one of our mama cows with a brand new bull calf. What a night to deliver a calf. Somehow the little fella came through the cold night just fine. Calves are IMG_0062really hardy.

The calf appropriately is all white- unusual since we cross black baldy mamas with a Charolois bull. The calves usually turn out brown or gray. Nevertheless, this one was white which seemed appropriate enough as he was born during a snowstorm. So now when we refer to this little bull calf , we call him Snowy Calf.

I have a not very good picture of Snowy Calf below. This was taken over a barbed wire fence preventing me from getting very close (probably good as mama cow might not have been in a very good mood. They are notoriously protective of new calves.IMG_0065

Maybe I need to modify the sign to read a good rain or a good snow and a new calf

The Challenges of Teen Pregnancy

Volunteering goes with retirement like jelly with toast. This is especially true for the City of Fredericksburg that relies heavily on volunteers. One of my most enjoyable volunteer jobs has been to serve on the City’s and County’s Health Board.

One of the more difficult areas we have dealt with is a rise in teen pregnancies in our county. While the rate nationally and statewide has dropped in recent years, the rates in our county have continued to rise. (some wags would say we are a bit behind the times here in Gillespie County)

The rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S.A. despite the drop, remains the highest of any of the developed country. To those who complain our country is losing its competitive edge, sadly we have remained all too competitive in numbers of births to teen moms.

A local Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force has been established and will be making recommendations to our community leaders. Beginning mid-January a series of Guest Editorials will run in the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, addressing various aspects of this challenge.  This editorials will focus the community’s attention on the problem while the Task Force continues to research and develop practical ways to address Teen Pregnancy. Below is my Guest Editorial as it appeared in the January 2 2013 issue of the Fredericksburg Standard Radio-Post.

Gillespie’s ‘teen baby bump’ alarms

            Mary Nelson (not her real name) once held high hopes for a college degree, a professional career, international travel, and a happy marriage. Her fondest teenage dreams faded when, in a moment of uncontrolled passion, she became pregnant. Mary’s future trajectory suddenly changed from a pursuit of lofty goals to dropping out of school, settling for a minimum wage job, and becoming a welfare recipient.

Five years ago the Gillespie County Health Board repeatedly heard these types of stories. These narratives combined with alarming reports from local doctors and nurses alerted your Health Board to an alarming increase in teen pregnancies in Gillespie County. The Health Board held a series of hearings to gain a better understanding of this problem.

In 2008 the U.T School of Public Health reported the results of a study of Teen Pregnancy in Gillespie County. The full report can be found on the City’s website (under Government, Boards and Committees, Health Board Information). Over a four-year period, births at Hill Country Memorial to Gillespie County teen residents more than doubled (12 in 2004 to 25 in 2008). We learned few births to our teen mothers occurred at hospitals other than Hill Country Memorial. Since HCM numbers are more current than are state or national figures, this allowed the Health Board to rely on their teen birth statistics to determine evolving local trends.

We also learned the State of Texas repeatedly ranks among the top four states in the country in the rate of teen pregnancies. The cost of teen pregnancy with its attendant health, societal, economic, and educational impacts prove staggering for all levels of government and society. We will discuss these individual and public health problems in subsequent Guest Editorials.

A year ago the Gillespie County Health Board found that births to teen mothers continued to be high. In addition we learned of instances of births to early teens attending the Middle School. We held a year of hearings on this topic and heard excellent testimony from professionals on the front lines. Despite a 37% drop in teen births statewide (2009 data), we learned that Gillespie County rates remained high and for the first time exceeded those of our contiguous counties. Why these troubling rates exist for Gillespie County remains unclear and will be explored further.

Along with the Gillespie Translational Advisory Board, the Gillespie County Health Board formed a task force of community leaders to investigate our teen pregnancy challenge and to make recommendations to address it. This broad based community group offers a great opportunity to understand these issues and to recommend approaches to lower our teen birth rates based on local information and local values.

The Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post will run additional guest editorials describing various aspects of teen pregnancy and its impact on both our teens and our entire community. These additional guest editorials will be written by Dr. Leonard Bentch, chair of our local Translational Advisory Board, and by the co-chairs of the local Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force, Dr. Ann Hoch, Pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church, and John Willome, Executive Director of the Good Samaritan Center.

The goals of the Task Force On Teen Pregnancy Prevention are to increase public awareness of teen pregnancy and to encourage broad based support for efforts to reduce it. In no way will the Task Force stop all teen pregnancies, but it is a promising beginning.

With the advent of a new year, it is time for a fresh start- a community wide approach for addressing the vexing problem of teen pregnancy in Gillespie County. It is a subject that warrants serious consideration by our citizens. The residents of Gillespie County have dealt successfully with difficult issues before. I have no doubt we will do so again.


Tom Hutton MD PhD

Chair, Gillespie County Health Board



Curly- Our Ferdinand

Meet Curly

Meet Curly

Curly is a bull. More specifically Curly is our four year old Charolois bull. He has an interesting personality quirk. Ever since we bought him when he was eighteen months of age, Curly has acted differently from our prior Charlois bull or from leased bulls who have visited our ranch. You see, Curly bonds and bonds strongly with the occasional calf.

Initially I assumed the togetherness came from occasional young bull (steer) calves as they followed Curly about the pasture. Curly after all is a big bull weighing about 2000 pounds and clearly has his way in the pasture. Young bull calves might have looked up to the big guy and have wanted to learn from the alpha male.

Curly Is A Large Charolois Bull

Curly Is A Large Charolois Bull

Later when we isolated two steers to feed them out (don’t share this with Alissa, my tender-hearted daughter-in-law, the teacher, whom I told these were special calves rewarded for exemplary behavior with special feed and private pasture). Curly would daily wander away from the herd and head straight for the pasture where the steers were kept. There he would hang around for most of the day at times foregoing the feeding of the herd with range cubes. He would nuzzle the calves and lay contently just outside their pen. He never tried to break down the fence nor did Curly seem upset with me for penning his friends. I have seen Curly’s bonding behavior with both steers and heifers, making the hormonal urges of a bull seemingly irrelevant for explaining this unusual behavior.

I have come to view Curly’s behavior as kin to that of Ferdinand the Bull. You recall the 1938 short animation by Walt Disney of an especially gentle bull who liked to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers. Well Curly to my knowledge doesn’t smell flowers but he is surprisingly docile like Ferdinand. He approaches me open mouthed when I feed, wanting me to stuff range cubes directly into his cavernous maw. While I have at times given into the temptation, something about such close contact with such a huge and potentially dangerous animal is off putting to say the least.

Open Wide

Open Wide

Now I know I am anthropomorphizing here as did Walt Disney in his short video. Perhaps other explanations exist for Curly’s bonding with calves. Perhaps he wants to round up “the strays” in the pen and herd them into the larger herd. Might this provide an explanation? Nevertheless, this doesn’t wash with me. Why would he lick on the calves, nuzzle them, and hang around when it is clear the fence prevents their following him.

In any event, Curly has proved incredibly gentle. He doesn’t wander off (read ferociously butt his way through fences) like our prior bulls. Instead he will stand at our perimeter fence and meekly gaze at neighbor cows or nuzzle them through the fence. Curly is known to take his turn at babysitting young calves. Typically one mama cow will stay with a group of young calves for protection while the other mothers graze. Never before had I witnessed a bull taking a turn at babysitting, well at least not until I met Curly.

These are the maunderings of a rancher, especially one with a lifetime of interest in exploring behavior. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands. Any other thoughts on Curly’s predilections would be welcomed. Please leave a comment.