Beware The Rooster

While living in the country and raising large animals, I have experienced many ways to become injured. For example I’ve sustained a broken arm after being pitched from a horse and received serious whole body bruising after being run over several times by a mad mama cow and firmly planted in a barbed wire fence. Nevertheless, a friend from Lubbock recently visited with what I thought was a novel animal-inflicted injury.

To back up a bit, our friend Judy Wilkins decided to raise chickens in her backyard in Lubbock. Truly fresh eggs taste much better than store bought ones, making her desire to raise backyard chickens understandable. However with the passage of time, one of the baby chicks that she had bought turned out to be a rooster rather than a hen. I’m sure mistakes can easily be made when sexing baby chicks.

Speedy the Rooster all grown up

The rooster had a pleasing crowing sound during the morning, and Judy decided to keep him for its local color and audio value. What else would a nice civilized lady like Judy do after all, certainly not do away with the animal by making him into a chicken dinner. She named the rooster, Speedy and kept him with her egg laying hens. And a handsome but scheming rooster he had become.

Apparently Speedy as he became larger became increasingly aggressive. Various efforts were made to socialize the bird such as petting and scolding it. But all efforts by the nice and patient Judy and her friends met with very limited success. The rooster proved incorrigible but hope sprung eternal. Speedy became aggressive in “protecting” his hens, flapping and squawking when people entered the chicken coup.

Speedy adopting his aggressive stance

One lovely summer morning Judy entered her chicken coop to retrieve several farm fresh eggs to make into a tasty breakfast dish. In as quick as a wink, Speedy came out of nowhere and attacked Judy’s exposed leg. Like a sewing machine, Speedy left a series of vertical, triangular wounds down her calf as precise and as straight as a seam in a fine garment and for a distance of over half a foot. The blitzkrieg attack lasted brief moments but the damage had been done and proved the aptness of the rooster’s name. Soon blood gushed from Judy’s multiple rooster-inspired wounds and flowed down her leg. I suspect about this time, Judy had lost her inkling for an egg breakfast, although I wonder if a rooster dinner might at some point have crossed her mind.

Regrettably, due to my poor photographic skills the picture I made of Judy’s heavily pecked leg has been lost. Perhaps this omission is just as well. Needless to say, the rooster’s grizzly revenge was not a pretty sight. Judy’s patience proved exhausted following the rooster attack and Speedy was, ahem, re-homed.

I mention this surprising incident and injury in case you might be considering raising chickens to enjoy the delights of farm fresh eggs. While the eggs are tasty and tempting- Beware the rooster!

A Memorable Object At Our Ranch

  •  

Hanging above the fireplace at Medicine Spirit Ranch is an object with special meaning for me- a Winchester Model 1873 Carbine. It is not that this model gun that is said to have won the West is so rare or valuable, but rather because it represents a tangible connection to my great grandfather, Thaddeus Septimis Hutton. The carbine is one of the few connections I have to this relative about whom I wish I knew more. The Winchester pictured below is better polished but otherwise looks like the Hutton Family rifle.

Thad Hutton, or Pappy as he was called later in life, bought the carbine for his use as a cowboy in Texas. The Hutton Family rifle was made in 1881 and is the second model of the 1873 Winchester. It weighs 7 3/8 pounds, has a short overall barrel length that is perfect for a saddle gun, and has a magazine that holds twelve rounds. This model of Winchester 1873 was manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut from 1879 to 1884. According to family lore, this Hutton carbine was one of the earliest of its type to enter the State of Texas.

This model 1873 was the rifle that put Winchester on the map of the West, trotting along with the equally formidable Colt revolver tucked into the belt of the frontiersman. The Winchester carbine is said to have killed more game, more Native Americans, and when the Native Americans awoke to its virtues, more US Soldiers than any other type of rifle. The development of powerful repeating rifles in the 1860s and 1870s of which the Winchester 1873 was the most popular, meant that hardy young Americans could penetrate the West, provide food, and exist in a hostile environment.

Thad Hutton left the Kansas City area around 1874 and struck out for Texas. He married Elizabeth Ragan in Palo Pinto County, Texas on November 1, 1876. Thad was a tall, affable cowboy while Betty was a diminutive Irish lass who reportedly possessed a sharp tongue. The wedding was performed by an itinerant preacher who came through the small town of Gordon near where they lived. Their first son, Thaddeus Leslie Hutton, was born two to three miles north of Gordon on May 11, 1878. Thad’s occupation on the birth certificate was listed as “cowboy.” He was at the time 29 years old and Betty was 24. The picture below was taken years after their marriage.

Not long after Leslie’s birth, Thad and Betty moved further west, relocating near Seymour, Texas. The reason for the move is  unknown, but a strong hint exists in that the Great Western Trail traversed Seymour, leading to Dodge City, Kansas. Dodge City was the major railroad terminus for Texas cattle and this booming western cow town developed quite a reputation. Did Thad ride the trail to Kansas as a drover, pushing large herds of Texas Longhorn cattle up the trail? Did he interact with any famous lawmen and gunfighters of the era including Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok? What were his recollections, if any, of Dodge City, called the wickedest city in the country and home to the Long Branch Saloon and China Doll brothel? Unfortunately this possible family history has all been lost to history. What is certain is that had Thad Hutton ridden the Great Western Trail, his 1873 Winchester carbine would have accompanied him on his long and arduous journey.

What is known for certain is that while in Seymour Thad worked on the P8 Ranch. Apparently this ranch no longer exists as no record of it can be found. While in Seymour three children were born to Thad and Betty including Emma Jane Hutton on March 9, 1880, Margaret Mary Hutton on October 5, 1881, and George Earl Hutton on August 30, 1885. My grandfather John Francis Hutton was not born until 1887 when by then Thad and Betty had left Texas and settled in Garden City, Missouri. Below are pictured Thad and his three sons.

One day while hunting wild cattle in Texas, Thad had a memorable experience. Thad and his friend, a Mr. Reid, found four head of wild cattle in a thicket. The hunters managed to separate one young bull from the remaining cattle. Thad at the time was carrying only an old shotgun but had exhausted his ammunition by shooting into the thicket in an attempt to scare the wild cattle out into the open. The men had gotten off their horses and the young bull, seeing the men on foot, got his fighting blood up. Thad reached into his pocket but found he had exhausted his supply of ammunition. By this time the bull had decided to charge Thad. Mr. Reid gave Thad some rifle balls that Thad put down the barrel of his shotgun following a load of gunpowder. He did not know if the shotgun would even fire loaded this way or would fire with any degree of accuracy. The infuriated beast snorting and galloping with head down drew near. Thad raised his gun and squeezed the trigger. The bull had drawn within ten yards of Thad when the shotgun fired, driving a rifle ball into the forehead of the bull. It fell mortally wounded. The meat from that wild bull fed the hunter’s families for a long time thereafter.

Another incident occurred in 1887 involving the Hutton 1873 Winchester when Thad and Betty had moved back to Missouri. The .44/40 saddle gun was loaned to a neighbor who needed a gun to kill a beef. Several days later the neighbor came to return the rifle and was asked how it had worked. The neighbor replied, “Sure it killed the beef all right, but that gun’s too dangerous to have around this country. The bullet went through his head and whistled on out across country. I’m wondering if I killed anything else besides the beef.”

Perhaps on hearing this story and learning of the power of the carbine Adele Hutton demanded of her husband, Howard, that the gun could only remain in the household if it were disabled. Apparently the firing pin was removed or damaged in such a way as to satisfy Mother as the gun remained in the house. Great Grandfather Thad’s gun was later passed on to me.

This 1873 Winchester saddle gun currently is encased above a fireplace at Medicine Spirit Ranch. It returned to our Texas ranch well over 100 years after it had departed Texas. It is a tangible tie to my great grandfather, Thad Hutton about whom I wish I knew more. I am proud to own this rifle of his and one day look forward to passing it on to my offspring.

How To Become A Rancher

One of the questions I am frequently asked is why did I decide in retirement to buy and move to a Texas cattle ranch. Obviously, I’ve enjoyed the experience enough to devote this blog to writing about it. Below is a story I’ve written describing my early interests in Texas and ranching that may have planted the seeds early on.

A family trip taken when I was ten years old remains one of my fondest childhood memories. It also had a surprising impact on my life. Mom and Dad pitched the idea in 1956 of our family tripping to the Circle R Ranch near Bandera, Texas. Being from Kansas City, I had never heard of Bandera, but being the wannabe cowboy that I was, I had certainly heard of Texas. The chance to ride horses, meet cowboys, visit a dude ranch, attend Bar BQ’s, swim in spring fed rivers, and feel the Texas experience was extremely appealing for me.

To get to Bandera, Texas our family flew on passes via Braniff Airways from Kansas City to San Antonio. In those days flying was by far the most affordable way for us to travel given the perk of nearly free air travel. As I recall, my family was picked up at the S.A. airport and driven by van to the Circle R Ranch. The sprawling ranch lay west of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country and probably took about one and a half to two hours to reach.

To my great enjoyment, we found a working ranch that also accepted families for a week at a time and showed them how a Texas ranch worked- a real Ranch that also served as a dude ranch. The Circle R had a swimming pool, bunkhouse, and dining area. Working cowboys roamed the premises, took guests on trail rides, provided swimming in the chilly waters of the Frio River, organized fishing opportunities, led hikes and demonstrated cowboy skills such as roping, bronc riding, shoeing horses, and herding cattle. This boy was in cowboy heaven.

One of the first activities after our arrival at the ranch was having a horse assigned to each of us for the week. My Dad received John, as I recall. My mother appropriately had Mother as her horse. My horse’s name was Sluggo. He was about as gentle as my old pet dog. Joan became quite attached to her horse, but I am unable to recall its name. I believe Dave was too young to ride a horse, as he was only five at the time.

The picture below was taken four years later at the Wiley Dude Ranch located not far from Richardson. If you look closely you may be able to see my siblings, David, Joan, and Jim in the front of the wagon.

Other families from distant places enjoyed the dude ranch activities that week as well. Given the informality and casualness, we became friends with the other kids and learned about their lives. In the evenings after hearty dinners, music was played, and once during the week a Texas live band played music. The music was all Country and Western tunes, and we had to learn how to dance to it. Joan was rather awe struck, as I recall, by the slender, good looking, Stetson wearing cowboys. The cowboys put on a rodeo during the week with cowboys from nearby ranches. I saw these cowboys as real men and fearless.

During that week I sensed a feeling of freedom and adventure that differed from the scheduled drudgery of school and the endless tick-tock of our clocks always reminding me of some task that needed to be performed. Texas had a different vibe that excited and intrigued me. It was a feeling of independence. This freedom loving, adventure seeking feeling about Texas has never left me.

We kids in my family knew nothing of the inner workings of Braniff Airways, my Dad’s new employer following its merger with Mid-Continent Airlines. We did not know that for my Dad to advance up the seniority list, he would need to relocate from Kansas City to Dallas, Texas.

This discussion of hidden motive never came up in conversation in later years, but I continue to wonder if our trip to the dude ranch wasn’t a prelude to a physical move of our family and an elaborate introduction for us to the State of Texas. If it was, then my folks had a stroke of genius. It was the following year (1957) that we departed Prairie Village, Kansas and relocated our family to Richardson, Texas.

I was so enthused about moving to Texas that according to my parents I boarded the airplane in Kansas City wearing chaps, cowboy hat, boots, and a brace of cap pistols. Perhaps, I thought we might have to fight Indians on our way out of the Dallas airport. The folks had no difficulty moving this young wannabee cowboy to Texas.

Now retired and living on a cattle ranch in the Texas Hill Country, I reminisce about my adventures at the Circle R Ranch so many years ago. Did our time at the dude ranch plant the seeds for my love of animals and ranching? Was I destined after that single week at the Circle R to retire to a ranch? Did feeling that Texas vibe early on set me up to long for the friendliness and openness that is so prevalent in Texas. And did my parents really have it all planned out and introduced the move in such an exciting and memorable way that it had a lasting impact? I rather believe the folks did and that the Texas spirit prevailed upon me as well.

Good Morning From Medicine Spirit Ranch

If the ranch calendar were compared to a single day, then early Spring at Medicine Spirit Ranch is like that sleepy part of the early morning when we groggily awaken but are far from alert or fully functioning. Finally it appears that the icy fingers of Winter have passed us by, but the fields and hills remain brown, dormant, and thirsty.

For the next several weeks and until the grass greens and grows, we will continue to haul giant bales of hay for the cattle and horses to eat. I’m often asked when do we discontinue feeding hay to our animals. The answer is easy, its when the animals stop eating the hay, as they always prefer green grass and will suddenly begin to ignore the hay.

Those of us living in central Texas remain in drought conditions. Until meaningful rain occurs, the brown grass will remain. So far no rain has crept into our forecast. As the wise, old owner of the feed store I frequent says when asked about expected rain, “Today we are one day closer to a good rain.”

Regrettably, tending my blog has flagged of late. This lack of attention results from two sources. First, my new book on Hitler’s health and its impact on World War II has been accepted and is finally in press. Covid greatly delayed the process of reviewing and publishing the work, as it has just about everything else in our lives. Still considerable works exists for me to redo small portions of the book, chase down print ready copies of photos, and laboriously provide an index. All of these items takes time and effort. Also discussions are ongoing with the publisher over the title. Whether or not my working title, Hitler: Prescription for Defeat, is descriptive enough remains under study.

My second distraction from my blog relates to weekly assignments received via my daughter and son. They have contracted with StoryWorth.com to email Trudy and me questions dealing with our growing up and our family recollections. Admittedly, I’ve found writing these stories enjoyable, time consuming, and have found that the effort prompts surprising recall.

I suppose Trudy and I are at that stage in life when we begin to sum up our lives. Now this is not to say that we don’t have plenty of kick left, just that we wish to leave a written legacy for those who will follow. Re-enforcement of our commitment to the project comes from the difficulty I’ve had discovering much about my great grandparents. Going back three generations in the family history exhausts our paltry memory banks. We hope the subsequent book published at the conclusion of this writing year will provide substantially more information for our offspring than we currently have about ours.

Great grandparents Thad Hutton and his wife Betty. He was a cowboy living on the Great Western Trail near Seymour, TX that led to Dodge City, Kansas. How we wished to know his adventures in the 1870s and 1880s and his possible interaction with such historical figures of the time as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok

So the good news is that another book for a popular audience of uncertain title should appear at the end of the year. The title may be different from the working title, but the information should prove novel and a different take on  Hitler and his actions. The book despite his poor health describes Hitler as totally culpable for his terrible misdeeds and demonstrates how his poor health impacted his prosecution of the war but not the cause of his immorality.

In the meantime, if you haven’t had a chance to read my prior book, Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, I hope you will pick up a copy. The book has been well reviewed and provides humorous and poignant descriptions of people dealing with challenging health issues. All of us are likely to find ourselves in similar straits one day, and the book provides insights as to how to negotiate these inevitable occurrences while still maintaining self-dignity and feelings of worth.

Winter At The Ranch

Winter at Medicine Spirit Ranch moves at a slower pace than  the rest of the year. The fields no longer require fertilizing, cutting grass, baling, and hauling hay. Likewise major repairs of the barns, major fencing changes, and replacing gates or cattle guards await better weather.

A few jobs increase during the winter. The feeding of the stock requires range cubes be fed daily to the cattle rather than  only a couple of days a week when the grass is green. We also provide large bales of hay typically three times a week via a tractor that requires a little time.

Two Black Baldy cows with their calves

Otherwise cedar chopping increases during the winter as the green cedar is easier to spot among the brown grass, and fences always need a bit of mending.

Otherwise winter tasks are largely determined by what most needs to be addressed. Some items simply are stumbled upon during morning rounds. For example today I stumbled across the carcass of a dead Black Baldy cow located at an infrequently traveled portion of my ranch. I had missed her late last year but never found evidence of her. I have no idea how or why she died but am especially perplexed because of losing two other cows last year. Only once before have I lost a cow and that was when her hind legs became paralyzed while attempting to give birth to a particularly large calf. She unfortunately failed to respond to the passage of time and treatment. Three cows dying in a year made for a very bad year indeed.

Last year also saw dreaded ice storm Uri from which we are still recovering. It was amazing the number of downed limbs and trees that resulted and that continue to litter parts of my ranch. I had hoped we would have the freakish mess cleaned up within a year, but my hope will go unrealized. There simply remains too much damage for us to clean up anytime soon.

Ice storm Uri left downed trees and limbs across our ranch

I remain hopeful that 2022 will prove better than last year. Surely the problems encountered in 2021 won’t recur. Reasons for hope are abundant. I have some outstanding calves ready to go to market and prices are good. We also are making good progress clearing the new land purchased last May. Hopefully, we will replace the previous bad fence along the county road, will have re-seeded the land, and have sufficient rain to grow a nice stand of grass. I also remain hopeful that we may finally see Covid-19 in the rear view mirror. Here’s hoping for a better future!

In addition the Great Blue Heron greets me almost daily. As previously noted in several blog pieces, the Great Blue Heron promises good fortune, and its presence adds to my optimism about the coming year.

A Great Blue Heron. Not my heron but representative

I wish you a wonderful 2022

Family Geneology- Don’t Fail To Ask

Recently I wrote a bio for my paternal grandfather for our family Bible. To enliven the piece, I struggled to remember anecdotes that would illustrate his life. This recall proved challenging, and I wish I had asked a lot more questions about his growing up. My plea to others is don’t forget to ask. You’ll likely be sorry later if you do not.

Below is the brief bio of my grandfather, John Francis Hutton (Frank). Family and those who knew this kind gentleman may find it interesting.

John Francis Hutton
(By John Thomas Hutton, grandson)

John Francis (Frank) Hutton was born in Garden City, Missouri on April 11, 1888 to Thaddeus (Thad) Septimus Hutton and Elizabeth (Betty) Jane Ragan Hutton. Frank was the only child born to Thad and Betty who was not born in Texas. He had three brothers; Thaddeus Leslie, George Earl, and John Francis who died in infancy and two sisters; Emma Jane and Margaret Mary. In October 1904 the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri where Frank attended Central High School, Central Business College, and the American Savings and Loan Institute.
Frank married Kate Frances Lincoln on October 1, 1913. Years later Frank shared a story about his courting of Kate. Frank’s home in Kansas City lay about 20 miles from Kate’s home in Liberty, Missouri. In order to visit her, Frank would borrow the family horse and buckboard and head for the Lincoln’s farm. At the end of the day, Frank would climb back into the buckboard, point his horse in the direction of Kansas City, loosely tie the reins, and then crawl into the back of the buckboard. There to the metronomic clip clop of his horse’s hooves, Frank would fall fast asleep. After all he had to work the following day and needed rest in order to be productive. When the horse would eventually stop, Frank realized that he had arrived home. He would then climb out of the buckboard, unharness the horse, and head off to bed. Frank’s practical approach to his late night transportation needs demonstrated an early example of a driverless vehicle, a smart horse, and a resourceful suitor.
For a time after getting married, Frank worked as an accountant for a salt company in Salina, Kansas. For the last thirty years of his work career, Frank worked at Metropolitan Savings and Loan in Kansas City, Missouri, working his way up the ranks until becoming Vice President.
Frank and Kate had one child, John Howard Hutton, born in Liberty, Missouri April 11, 1921. Frank eventually purchased two acres of land and a red brick two-story home at 909 Vivion Road in Kansas City, Kansas where he and Kate enjoyed a semi-rural lifestyle. For many years the Frank Hutton family planted and tended a large vegetable garden that provided abundant harvests.
The yard on Vivion Road was large and required Frank to own two lawnmowers; one a large machine he called Big John and a smaller one that he named Little Boy. Frank used Big John for the broad swathes and Little Boy for the tighter areas. Frank regularly pruned the shrubbery, fertilized the yard, and mowed at regular intervals. Frank’s yard reflected his own personality with its simplicity, understatement, and tidiness.
One of Frank’s lessons for his grandchildren dealt with neighborliness. He described how one good neighbor would extend his fertilizing for a short distance across his property line and into his neighbor’s yard. Likewise the next-door neighbor would extend his fertilizing efforts across the boundary into the first neighbor’s yard. This extension inevitably led to a deeply green and luxuriant strip of grass midway between the two yards. This practice, Frank suggested, embodied good neighborly relations.
Frank for years enjoyed a regular Saturday golf outing with his friends and continued to play until he was well into his eighties. While a slight man at about five feet six inches and 130-140 pounds, his drives down the fairways were short but remarkably on target. His iron play and putting remained as deadly as ever.
Frank knowing the wonderful life lessons that golf taught wanted to pass the golf legacy to his three grandsons. Despite his patient instruction his attempts were not universally accepted. With the exception of David, none initially took up the game. Frank’s grandsons were larger, stronger, and more physically fit than their slightly built and aging grandfather, yet their grandfather was so far superior to their own unrefined efforts that each grandson questioned whether golf was destined to be his game.
Frank’s Christian faith played a guiding role in his life. For many decades Frank served as a dedicated Sunday school teacher with regular attendance at the Ivanhoe Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
Several of Frank’s personality characteristics spring to mind. He demonstrated great affability. He possessed a kindness and interest in people that served him well throughout his life and gained him many close friends. Frank may have acquired his affability from his father who possessed this attribute as did Frank’s son, Howard. Frank also possessed a wonderful sense of humor and told grand stories. He was soft spoken and mild mannered except when attending the Kansas City Athletics baseball games at Metropolitan Stadium where he rooted loudly for the home team. Frank often took friends and family to sit in the Metropolitan S & L box that was located along the first base line. Frank always treated his family and friends generously with treats and soft drinks.
A second personality characteristic of Frank was his loyalty. He was for decades a devoted employee at Metropolitan Savings and Loan. He showed loyalty to his family as well. When his son, John Howard Hutton, transferred from Kansas City to Dallas to fly for Braniff Airlines, shortly after Frank’s retirement Frank and Kate followed and bought a home only several blocks away from Howard Hutton’s home in Richardson. Frank and Kate said they wished to watch their grandchildren grow up. In Richardson (a northern suburb of Dallas) he attended innumerable youth ball games, church events, school plays, sporting events, graduations, and city happenings. Frank was a doting and loving grandfather. Frank remained loyal to the Christian Church in Richardson where he and Kate regularly attended and where he again taught Sunday school. He also founded a Senior Citizens group that for many years served the community.
A third characteristic of Frank Hutton was his calm demeanor. Undoubtedly, he likely must have displayed excessive emotionality at some point, but this observer never once saw him lose his temper or become upset. He served as an emotional anchor for his family and calmly surfed the upsets of life that would often distress others.
Frank Hutton enjoyed good health until very near the end of his life. He died on September 14, 1975 following a fall on his driveway that gave rise to intracranial bleeding. He was 86 years old. Of Frank Hutton it can be said, he was truly a gentle person who was widely respected and loved by all who knew him.

Making Smoke

These past weeks we’re been making smoke- a lot of it. In May we obtained a piece of raw land adjacent to our Hidden Falls Ranch. I claimed at the time when we closed on the property that it was the WORST piece of property in the county. My less than flattering description resulted from the intensely thick cedar that covered it which had choked out the grass necessary for raising cattle. Being an eternal optimist, I secretly believed that with lots of TLC and bulldozer clearing, the property had the potential to return to  the pristine grazing land that once it had been.

Thick foliage covers the land, consisting largely of cedar

We have now spent three months clearing the land. Two part-time bulldozer operators have been working. The land is opening up dramatically and I may yet realize my fondest hopes. To my knowledge, the land has never been cleared. For centuries this land had few trees and consisted of rolling prairies with native grasses. The land changed over the decades due to over grazing and an influx of non-native trees. During the cattle drives from south Texas in the 1800s the mesquite and cedar (actually two varieties of Juniper) spread into our area and in some instances even choked out the native Live Oaks, Cottonwood, and Pecan trees. What is now our new piece of land became forested with thick cedar groves.  By doing so, the cedar sucked up vast amounts of precious water and the thick canopy prevented grass from growing. For at least the last 50-75 years, the land was used solely for hunting purposes that did not require clearing of the land.

My wish is to return the land to the prime grazing land that it once was. With luck and good weather we may finish clearing the land by the end of the year, and then spread native grass seed, and have the land in shape for grazing within the next several years.

Along with the bulldozing has come a new animal on the ranch. Meet Dozier Dog. One of the bulldozer operators comes to work with his Australian shepherd. To my amazement, the dog rides in the bulldozer with Coy, moving side to side in the bulldozer to observe its progress. The dog’s name is actually Remy, but to me he is “Dozer dog.” Despite the racket of the bulldozing, loud crackint of the trees being felled, and the ever present dust, Dozer dog rides happily along intently checking on the progress being made. Apparently the only dislike he has is going up very steep slopes and having branches fall over and into the cab of the bulldozer. Can’t say that I blame Dozer dog for disliking falling branches or steep climbs. At these times Remy seems content to wait in the bed of the pickup.

One outcome from dozing so many cedar trees has been huge piles of upended trees. Over the last several weeks and for months in the future, we will be burning the piles of trees and limbs. Hence, we are making lots of smoke. Vast plumes of gray smoke coil into the sky along with a scattering of ash over a wide area The acreage is opening up and revealing lovely nascent grazing land and striking vistas. We light the fires in the morning and burn huge piles of cedar all day. We take precautions to limit the spread of the fire by weed whipping around the burn pile, and stand  by with rakes, shovels, and large water containers to deal with any unwanted spread. So far, so good. The bulldozer pushes trees and limbs that are standing in piles nearby. All has gone well thus far.

I’ve been asked by friends who have moved from cities to the countryside whether a permit is required in order to burn. The answer is no so long as the county doesn’t have a burn ban in place. It is assumed that caution will be used that to me means low wind and wet conditions.

Bella: Hey, I don’t like another dog on the ranch. I want all the attention

In case you haven’t read it, consider picking up a copy of my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales. It is a heartwarming read about some terrific people with neurological disorders who teach lessons about love, humor, and especially courage. It is available via Amazon or your favorite bookstore and can be ordered as a traditional book or as an e-book.

An Unusual Visitor On The Ranch

While searching for a lost cow the other day, I came across a sight that caused me to make a classic double take. Before me stood a large Axis deer with a truly impressive set of horns. I had never previously seen an Axis buck or any other Axis deer on my ranch. These deer also go by the name of Chital which means spotted in Hindi. Indeed the spots on the adult Axis deer make them distinctive as do the impressive horns on the bucks.

Our Unusual Visitor On The Ranch


The buck I spotted didn’t appear to be afraid of me or of the truck I was driving. He walked calmly by in front of me, as if searching. I had heard that Axis deer did not jump fences (not true) and wondered how in the world he found his way into my pasture. This surprising visitor caused me to research the topic which I found interesting enough to share with you, the reader.

Axis deer were introduced into the Hill Country of Texas in the 1930s as an exotic animal for hunters. They also exist in parts of Australia but the largest populations exist in the Asian subcontinent. This variety of deer originates from India but found the Texas Hill Country to their liking. The terrain in the Hill Country is similar to that from whence they came. It did not take long for Axis deer to escape from the hunting ranches in Texas and populate this area. Axis now compete with our native White Tail deer.

Axis males are from 150 to 250 pounds and are about the same size as White Tail deer. Nevertheless, when meeting at a feeder, the Axis deer will run off the White Tail deer. White Tail and Axis do not interbreed given that they represent different species. Axis deer browse and graze and live in herds typically up to about fifteen individuals. They tend to vocalize much like an elk although not quite as loud.

Many Axis deer in the Hill Country were killed by the severe ice storm experienced last winter (see previous  blog piece for description and pictures). Obviously this big boy escaped harm which may explain why he is wandering about alone and perhaps searching for a herd of Axis deer to join. The ice storm may be one of the rare risks in Texas for this species of deer. We have no wolves in the Hill Country and mountain lions are fairly rare. Packs of coyotes may present a risk for Axis deer, as they do for White Tail deer.

The meat from Axis deer is said to be the tastiest of any wild game. Also being an exotic, no season exists for them and they can be hunted anytime. The open season for Axis deer is like that for feral hogs who are far more damaging to property and fences. The general advice has been to shoot Axis deer, as they are slowly out competing our native White Tail population. Actually we are so over populated with deer in the Hill Country that the hunting season for White Tail deer keeps getting extended and hunters are urged to shoot Axis anytime they come upon one.

I must admit that the beauty of this large buck left me momentarily mesmerized. Not being a hunter, I would find it difficult to shoot anything quite so magnificent as our recent visitor.

Purple Martin Majesty

They left us again- just like every year since putting up their bird houses. Migrated, I suspect, is the better term. From April to late July these sleek birds grace us and amaze us by their aerial acrobatics, fierce protection of their nests, feeding and swarming behaviors. Purple Martins are impressive birds and beautiful in so many ways.

A beautiful male bird with blue head and breast and dark wings. Not my picture. Taken from the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

Purple Martins are 7.5 to 9 inches long and weigh about two ounces. They are swallows and in size between a sparrow and an American Robin. They have a slightly hooked bill, short split tail, and long, tapered wings. These broad chested birds are built for speed and for flying long distances as indeed they regularly do.

Each year Purple Martins leave their nesting areas in the eastern half of the United States and migrate thousands of miles to winter in the rain forests of Brazil and the Yucatan. Geolocators on Purple Martins have shown the Fall migration can be drawn out, but the Spring migration back to the United States is much more direct, presumably so that the Purple Martins can arrive first to find the best mates and nesting sites.

The birds will also return to earlier nesting sites if they previously have found them suitable. Knowing this gives Trudy and me pleasure, believing we have returning friends to our ranch in central Texas who enjoyed their earlier stays and our accommodations.

Below are several pictures of our Purple Martin houses and swarming Purple Martins.

The Purple Martins swoop through the air with beaks open, catching winged insects mid-air. No wonder we have so few mosquitoes. Their mobility, gliding, and speed are truly impressive to witness. Here in the picture they are returning to their nests to feed their young.

After returning to the bird houses in our backyard each Spring, they spend time building their nests. Hatching of the eggs takes around 26 days. The swooping birds are especially active first thing in the morning and just before and during sunset.

The birds live in colonies that provide protection from predators. Their main predators are hawks and owls and indeed we once had our Purple Martin house and its avian contents savaged by an unknown predator. We have since seen a hawk swoop close by the Purple Martin houses and witnessed two brave Purple Martins, like angry fighters, chase away the much larger hawk. The Martins did this by weaving and diving at the hawk, their exceptional mobility and speed making this effective strategy rather than suicidal behavior.

Toward the end of their stay, we notice increasing numbers of birds flying about (staging). This swarming or staging as it is known by birders is preparatory for their long migration to Brazil. And then all of a sudden, they are gone. Vanished. What had been bird houses teeming with birds and hordes of birds in the air are suddenly vacant houses and empty sky.

Trudy and I miss these amazing and social creatures. We have now but to clean and repair their houses and ready them again for the Spring return of yet another troop of colonizing Purple Martins. Safe Travels! See you next year.

Summer Satisfaction At The Ranch

The seasons seem to roll by with greater speed these days, but what a year it’s been with Covid-19 restrictions and ice storm Uri. Admittedly, feelings of personal vulnerability  have been great. A humbling year to say the least.

Nevertheless, life has returned this summer to a more normal state. One of the most pleasing days of the year at the ranch is when we have cut, raked, and baled the hay, especially when its a good hay crop. And this year we had the second best hay crop ever with 166 round bales (each weighing about 900 pounds). This is greater than our own needs, although still feeling vulnerable, I’ll keep a larger reserve than I have previously and will sell the remainder.

While the rains have not been tremendous this year, they came at the right time. We experienced a good rain just after fertilizing (whew, such a big investment in dollars that could easily go for naught without rain). We also had timely rains during the growing season and then a dry spell long enough to cut, rake, and bale the hay. The bales will be left in the fields for several weeks, as the bales when wrapped tightly get hot and spontaneous combustion has been described with barn fires resulting. Following a reasonable interlude for the bales to cool, we will fill our barns to the ceilings with newly cut hay. Nothing like the pungent smell of newly harvested hay.

Bales of hay in the pasture

Bella , Jack and yours truly inspecting a bale

 

The birth of a calf is another satisfying event. Over a period of several weeks we had 15 calves born. It is such fun to see the calves scampering around.  They are so curious that they will come up to humans, at least until their mothers emit a deep mooing sound to let them know they are getting out of line. What fun to watch their playful antics and watch how rapidly they gain weight on nourishing mothers’ milk.

Previously I’ve written also several blog pieces about a Great Blue Heron that has frequented our ranch. While we have other herons about the ranch, I had not seen the one with whom I had developed a certain symbiotic bond. Well, yesterday he (I assume it is a he) returned. This heron sits on the same limb of a nearby tree, sees me and flies to a spot about thirty yards from where I stand. As I begin to throw out food to Survivor Duck and the fish in the tank, the Great Blue Heron slinks down the embankment, drawing near to me. There he squats down and folds his neck amid the weeds, awaiting an unsuspecting fish to swim by. On spotting a small fish, he swiftly lunges and extends his long neck, usually coming up above the water’s surface with a fish clamped in his beak. What a treat to have him back at our stock tank. Legends say herons are good luck! Finally after Covid-19 and the devastating ice storm, we could use some good luck.