Category Archives: Animals on the ranch

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.

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.

Age and Wisdom

When recently  feeding out a steer (a Longhorn/Charolais cross), I decided to put his Longhorn grandmother, Bell, with him for company. This was to calm the calf that for the first time was separated from its mother and herd, and in addition to pamper Bell who was the first cow on our ranch and for whom I remain sentimental. She is now north of 25 years of age and in recent years has been becoming progressively skinny and competing poorly for food with the larger herd of Black Baldies.

Over the three months of fattening, like the calf, Bell gained weight and began to look much healthier. She relished the daily feedings of grain. When she would see me approach in the pickup, she would head straight away to the food trough with the steer following closely behind. When the calf was eventually fattened, loaded into the trailer, and taken to be processed, I opened the gate to reunite Bell with the herd.

But it seems Bell had developed an appetite for the finisher feed. Whenever I passed her for the next several days, she tended to track me hopefully with her plaintive brown eyes. I also observed her not feeding well on the still short Spring  grass, nor could she compete successfully when I doled out supplemental protein cubes. In short, she was once again dwindling.

I tried to feed her extra, but proved unsuccessful due to the other stronger cows showing up and running her off. This morning this unfortunate scenario reoccurred. I felt bad that Bell was unable to obtain more than a mouthful of grain before being driven off by the other cows and the bull. After my unsuccessful attempt I went about my ranch chores but continued to ponder if there was another strategy to supplement Bell’s diet. I eventually headed  back up the hill to where the herd resided.

But halfway up the hill, I found Bell standing alone. She seemingly had placed herself in this prominent position where I couldn’t miss seeing her but also located out of sight from the remainder of the herd.  I stopped and gave her a large portion of grain. She ate with gusto and without being molested by the other pushy cows, calves, or bull.

By guile and experience, Bell has found a way to obtain her extra feeding. I must admit being older myself, that I gained satisfaction at seeing the old girl outsmart the rest of the herd. Animals sense when another is slipping and afford them little succor. This old Longhorn had always been the smartest cow in the herd and for many years, despite not being the largest cow, served as the Bell Cow. When she eventually had to give up her rank in the herd, her daughter, also a Longhorn, took over as the Bell Cow. The Longhorns being smarter always led the Black Baldies to where the grass was best and the water plentiful.

Watching Bell this morning reminded me of the old saying that experience and guile can beat out the enthusiasm and vigor of youth. Once again, Bell the aged Longhorn proved this aphorism to be true.

Bell the old Longhorn is on the left and Cinnamon her daughter is on the right

Survivor Duck

Years ago my neighbor and I shared a brood of Rouen baby ducklings. They were delivered by mail, raised in cages, and eventually when ours were grown walked by Trudy down to our nearby stock tank. Actually to Trudy’s surprise the following day she found that they had walked back to our back fence, and she had to again walk them back down to the stock tank.

These Rouen ducklings became big breasted and flightless ducks. While they can manage to fly for very short distances and at a foot or two above the water, they essentially are flightless. What we had not counted on was that these flightless ducks became particularly vulnerable to varmints, such as raccoons and coyotes. Sure enough, one by one, the ducks disappeared without so much as a suspicious pile of feathers being left behind. That is, all of the ducks but one, this being a male Rouen duck.

This is not MY Rouen duck, as he is currently moulting and not very pretty. This picture of a male and a female Rouen duck is taken from the internet


I’ve named thislone lone duck, Survivor duck, for obvious reasons. But what wasn’t at all clear to me was how this duck managed to dodge the predators and live when all the others had been lost early on. He has now been without any of his fellow ducks for some three or more years. How in the world did he manage this feat of survival?

As is my routine very morning, I head to the stock tank and throw out feed for Survivor Duck and for the bass and other stocked fish in the tank. Almost every day Survivor Duck paddles over to me and enjoys his breakfast. His ability to pluck the pellets from the water always reminds of of a sewing machine. His head simply flies up and down so fast that it becomes blurred.

He has become so used to my presence that he is almost tame. He will waddle along the ground a step in front of me and eat the feed that I throw either on the ground or in the water. I doubt he would let me approach him close enough to pick him up, but it would be close.

On the days when Survivor Duck doesn’t appear, I always fear he has become the latest duck to meet with a grisly fate. But within a day or two, I see him churning through the water toward me, as I open the duck box and begin to throw out feed.

My answer to this nagging question of how he has survived came not long ago. As I approached the stock tank, I scanned the pond and did not see Survivor duck. But Suddenly my eyes were drawn upward to a flying duck at around fifty feet. I watched it fly the length of the stock tank. As it approached overhead the duck banked to the right and made a long lazy loop out over the edge of my property and my neighbor’s property only to complete the circle back over the stock tank.

The duck flew toward me, lost altitude, extended its feet like orange skids, and landed in the water not more than twenty feet away. To my amazement it was Survivor Duck. Our so-called flightless duck had become proficient at flying. No doubt this ability explains his remarkable ability to avoid any duck devouring predators. I can now attest that there is at least one Rouen duck in the world that is NOT flightless.

Perhaps this just goes to prove that when faced with special challenges, this duck learned to evolve and adapt. Hmmm, may be there is a lesson here.

 

Winter At Medicine Spirit Ranch

The work changes with the seasons at Medicine Spirit Ranch. In many ways winter is the busiest time of year because we must keep the animals supplied with hay and supplemental protein.

Also we carry out tasks more suited for winter months. For example, the small evergreen juniper saplings, referred to locally as “cedar”, visually contrast better in winter from the tall brown grass. This makes it easier to find the cedar in winter and to apply a set of loppers to the task. The cedar is most unwelcome on ranches, because it demands huge amounts of water and competes with the various grasses needed for our grazing animals.

Also we repair fences during the winter. The fences become stretched from cows leaning over them and deer jumping through them. Also feral hogs have made their unwelcome appearance and will likely create still more fencing problems. Ugh!

We horses need our protein pellets every day. Now don’t be late!

We work on equipment during the winter that typically is in heavy use during the warmer parts of the year. We cut dead trees and clear drainage pipes under ranch roads. The daily cattle feeding is greater during the winter than during the remainder of the year as we keep them supplied with hay in the form of giant (900 pound) bales. We also feed the cattle range cubes on a daily basis to supplement their protein needs.

The horses on the other hand receove their protein containing feed every day year round whereas the cattle don’t during the non-winter months. Given the excitement and jousting for the range cubes by the cattle, we refer to it as “cow candy.”

So why do the horses get supplemental feed every day of the year and we don’t?

This past week we’ve been repairing a well in one of our pastures. This job proved arduous, as we had to dig up a 45-gallon container that was buried in the ground. The container stores water and moves it to a nearby water trough. We found a leek at the connection that fed into the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately after replacing the pump motor, replacing the water container and some  PVC connections,  and then reburying the tank, we sprung yet another leak. It seems the large water container sank deeper into the hole, re-breaking the PVC pipe. A second attempt at this fix hopefully has addressed the problem. We’ll see. So far, so good.

Curious how the cattle stood around the developing pond resulting from the leak and gawked at our inability to fix their water trough. I am pretty sure Number 36, a.k.a. “the Tongue” was chuckling. Cheeky cow! She is my nemesis.

We continue to vaccinate calves for black leg (a bacterial infection) and periodically take a load of yearlings to market. Six calves have been born within the last week or so. They are so cute at this age. See their pics below.

We never seem run out of tasks on the ranch despite the season. Nevertheless, I can hardly wait for Spring to arrive.

Doggie Birthdays

We recently celebrated 14th Birthdays for both our male Border, Buddy and his Sister, Howdy. She resides with her human companion, Suzy Gillette about twenty miles west of Fredericksburg. Fourteen years old in human years equals 98 dog years- now that’s really old and calls for a PARTY!

Buddy on left and Howdy in the middle as puppies. Howdy was a large puppy born breech. I had to help deliver her myself.

An event of such grand significance, in addition to Howdy and Suzy, demanded we invite our good friends Tom and Linda Norris. They’re invested in our family and willing to act a little silly to celebrate whatever, so long as wine is served. Trudy made scarves for the birthday dogs as well as scarves for Bella, our female Border collie, and Little Jack, our Texas Brown dog. Their canine attendee scarves had printed messages that read, “He’s Our Buddy.”

A grown up Buddy

 

A grown up Howdy

As you can see, both Buddy and Howdy have almost identical markings. The big difference is that Buddy is black and white while Howdy is red and white. Their behaviors are almost identical- both being rather shy, loving, and extremely smart.

Trudy put together a menu fit for a canine banquet. It was as follows:

Mighty tasty I might add. Needless to say this menu was for the human attendees.  The meal for humans was served in dog bowls (see below). The doggies had bowls overflowing with doggie treats and favorite canned dog food.

Admittedly, ours were brand new dog bowls, but what a lark to see the humans eating their “paw-sta” from dog bowls. All really got into the spirit of the party and enjoyed their meals.

Needless to say we also enjoyed snacks and appetizers prior to the big meal. This included a snack mix, we referred to as Puppy Chow.

Puppy Chow

The tasty appetizers were largely for the human attendees at the party, but I’ve been know to sneak a few treats for our doggie companions. They were mighty good and enjoyed by all!

A sampling of the tasty appetizers

As you might expect some adult beverages were available to heighten the enthusiasm of the human companions. These came in red, referred to as Buddy’s Bonanza, and white, referred to as Howdy’s Hurrah. The dogs were served generous supplies of cool, fresh well water.

Following the meal, cookies were served to the human companions. As you can see, Trudy outdid herself by creating cookies in the image of dogs.

Trudy created cookies in the image of dogs

 

Needless to say, both humans and dogs enjoyed themselves. We celebrated our faithful dogs, told stories about their skills and foibles, and described how they mirrored our own aging process. Both dogs are slowing up. Both dogs have some health problems. Buddy suffers from a weak rear end. It gives out on him periodically. Nevertheless, he is always anxious to load up in the pickup and cruise the ranch. Admittedly he can no longer leap into the bed of the truck, requiring me to catch him mid-air and lift him in. Both dogs continue to play vital roles in supplying the affection and loyalty to their human companions.

The occasion brought to mind the Ode To A Dog written years ago by George Vest who was a Missouri State Senator. It turned out that a loyal and much loved dog had been shot and killed by a neighboring farmer who suspected the dog was marauding his stock. The State Senator presented in court, representing the bereft dog’s owner. What follows was this lawyer’s poignant closing argument to the jury.

 

A Portion of George Vest’s Closing Argument To The Jury:

Gentlemen of the Jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. Where all other other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.

 

Needless to say, George Vest won his law suit!

Such strong and loving sentiment for our loyal canines, seems to me, to deserve an occasional celebration. I recall with love and amazement how Buddy as a half grown Border collie broke up a fight between two bulls and then herded our bull back across the neighboring ranch to the break in our fence. I also recall how when I was laid up for six weeks with a bad back, how Buddy laid beside me virtually the entire time. Such loyalty from a dog earns loyalty from this human.

Happy Birthday Buddy and Howdy. For our lives, you have added much.

Buddy with his place in the sun. Rest well my old dog for you deserve it.

 

Avian Apocalypse: Why Should We Care?

An article in the prestigious journal Science recently revealed that the bird population in this country has dropped 29% since 1970. The reasons given for this loss include reduced habitat and increased use of pesticides that diminish the food sources. This loss was pretty much across the board and included such common birds as Robins and Starlings. But why should any of this matter to us?

The other day I was feeding our lone survivor duck at the stock tank near our house. The morning was clear and the temperature had not yet risen to an uncomfortable range. The lone male Rouen duck (looks like a Mallard duck but larger breasted see example below) waddled up to me, awaiting my throwing of his food.

There standing before me within my own shadow stood this survivor bird. He is the last of a group of twelve we raised and put on the tank, the others having become food for local predators (fox and raccoon we think). He is a wily little duck that greets me each morning. I’ve wondered many times what sets this duck up for survival whereas the others made early exits.

I lifted my eyes toward the opposite side of the tank and noticed among the catails a beautiful Snowy Egret. This long legged white heron has been residing with us for the last several weeks. Also nearby on the top limb of the tallest tree sat our resident Great Blue Heron. I’ve written several blog pieces about this marvelous Great Blue heron, its beauty and its mythology.

A Great Blue Heron. Not my heron but representative

I must admit to a moment of profound awe. There in front of me were three beautiful birds. Each has its story and its own beauty. Later on I blithered on about this magical moment to friends; the profound impact it had on me, and the beauty of the birds. Admittedly my friends did not fully understand the magic of my bird sighting. Perhaps you had to be there to appreciate the moment.

Moments of wonderment like this are a major reason why we must reverse the loss of our bird population. The thrumming of their calls first thing in the morning, the beauty of their synchronized flight, and their contributions to thinning out noxious insects are practical and important reasons to protect them. Think how sad it would be if our skies were cleared of birds and our ears failed to hear their melodious calls.

Animals and animal behaviors fascinate me. Even though on the back porch of my years, I’m so glad to still experience awe and wonderment of nature. Yes, Trudy and I will continue to spend countless dollars filling our multiple bird feeders and enjoying their beauty, song, and flight. We hope you will too.

Air Mailed By A Cow

While the event to be described happened sometime ago, writing about it before now proved impossible, as it was just too painful. Let me assure you that as a cattle rancher, this was not my finest moment.

The cow in question is #36 or as I refer of her as “the tongue.” She is a large Black Baldy cow with a protruding tongue problem. You see, her tongue hangs out of her mouth about eight inches and dangles to the right. Even my veterinarian had not seen a cow with a problem like this one. The vet  concluded that the tongue must work, as she is hardly malnourished.

Perhaps it was her slightly goofy appearance that gave me my false sense of security. Rather than focusing on her tongue, strikingly pendulous as it was, I should have noticed the suspicious gleam in her evil bovine eye. Surely that would have put me on guard, if I’d only been sufficiently observant.

#36- The Tongue

In truth “the tongue” had previously been a good cow. This attribute of goodness  I define as placid, a good mother to her calves, and gentle to be around. The latter criterion is the one for which I was in serious error.

My ranch hand, Juan, and I decided to vaccinate her calf in the pasture. It was several days old. We chose to do this rather than running the whole herd through the cattle chute and separate the calf from its mother. Let’s just say our plan was expedient rather than clever.

Juan who is handy with a lasso did his roping thing, and I ran merrily in with the syringe in hand and proceeded to give the calf its necessary vaccination- subcutaneously mind you, as it is less painful. Meanwhile Mama cow stood nearby seemingly showing little interest and no apparent animosity. Or so I thought. I suppose her baleful stare, in retrospect, should have tipped me off to her explosive temper.

Suddenly and just after withdrawing the syringe, I look up and Mama Cow, the tongue, is barreling toward me as fast as a 1400 pound cow can move. Seeing I am in imminent danger of becoming roadkill, I began to backpedal as fast as my aging legs would allow. The tongue then stuck her head in my plump and ample midsection and launched me high into the air, airmailing me about twenty feet away and into a pile of cattle dung and wedged against a barbed wire fence. Whether she ran over me, I honestly can’t say, as the pain resulting from the hard landing was simply too intense and distracting. Houston, we have a problem!

There I laid amid the cow patties, lying on the packed earth that was softened only with aromatic dry cow patties. Try as I might, I could not overcome the pain in my hips and shoulder sufficiently to regain my feet. I think I did glance at the cow to make sure she was no longer in full combat mode. By this time she had herded up her calf, paying me no more attention than she did a nearby rock pile.

Finally I struggled to my feet. I did this by holding onto the barbed wire fence which is not a particularly comfortable source of support. Juan by then had reached me and was in full apology mode. This was not at all necessary, as Juan had done nothing wrong, but rather it was my judgment that had been lacking.

After regaining a somewhat clearer head, I asked Juan to fetch my pickup from the barn. With effort I drug my pained body into the cab of the pickup. I slowly set out over bumpy roads for my house and called ahead to Trudy, asking, if on my arrival, she might help me out of the truck. When I reached the driveway, there Trudy stood awaiting me and wearing a concerned look on her face.

It’s at times like this when you find out if your spouse truly loves you. There I was covered in cow manure, groaning like a woman in end stage labor, bleeding from multiple scrapes, and hobbled by substantial pain. To cut to the chase, X-rays later showed no broken bones, but I had narrowed my shoulder joint and developed rotator cuff symptoms. These have improved over the last month and mostly only bothers me now if I attempt to elevate my right arm above my shoulder. My walking was limited for awhile but fortunately healing has occurred and the bruising has subsided.

Admittedly I sometimes think back to my career as a neurologist and recall that not once, not a single time, was I injured swinging a reflex hammer! Since retiring I’ve been pitched from a horse and broken my arm, blew out a disc in my back requiring surgery after man-hauling a stump from the creek, and sustained a compound fracture of a finger after being hit by a wayward golf ball. Retirement is not for sissies!

Despite my injury prone retirement, I’ve simply loved it. I only hope I can stand up to the physical wear and tear. i have determined henceforth I will run every calf through the chute, separating the calf from a potentially overprotective mama cow. This might be good in the long term to prolonging my life as a rancher.

#36 chewing her cud and even then with tongue hanging out

Also the mama cow and I have come to an understanding. I recognize she was only protecting her calf and she appears to be her old docile self. She will be sticking around the ranch. Now, if #36 will only stop sticking her tongue out at me!

 

The Nutria Are Coming, The Nutria Are Coming

Not long ago I spied a medium-sized brown animal swimming languidly in my pond. At first I thought the animal was a beaver. How wonderful, I thought, for our stock tank to be a home for a beaver. After all, who doesn’t love those industrious, furry little flat-tailed creatures?

On closer inspection I saw that while the head looked like that of a beaver, its tail was not flat nor paddle shaped but instead bore the look of a rat’s tail. With a little research, I learned the identity of the interloping animal- it was a nutria.

Brown furry nutria

I began to read about nutria. From my reading I sensed an existential dread associated with nutria. I learned it was an invasive species and fully worthy of eradication. For me, a man of peace, the thought of shooting or trapping nutria was hard to accept. After all, I had spent a professional lifetime trying to preserve life in my chosen profession of medicine, such that killing simply doesn’t come naturally for me. Trapping of the nutria also made no sense either, as once trapped what was I to do with the despised animals?

Little Jack does not share my concerns regarding the killing of varmints. He in fact specializes in squirrels and armadillos

Nutria are an invasive species brought to Louisiana from South America in the 1930s. Some 20 animals were transplanted to begin fur farms so that their pelts could be made into hats and muffs. After the craze for nutria fur subsided, however, and the fur mills disappeared, these semi-aquatic rodents scampered and swam into the Louisiana swamps where they bred like crazy. Their initial numbers increased dramatically, having up to three litters per year and up to 13 pups at a time. It is now estimated that in the U.S.A. some 20 million nutria exist and are spreading out from Louisiana in a rapidly expanding rodent infestation. Texas is affected, your state may also be impacted or else may be soon.

Already nutria have spread to the northwest portion of the U.S. and as far as California. In California the threat they pose to the wetlands is said to be equal of the threat that wildfires have for the State.

What makes nutria so feared is that they eat water plants, both root and stem. Nutria will completely destroy water plants , creating an ugly “eaten out” and useless body of water. They are destructive little beasts with voracious appetites.

One of the stranger features of nutria are their stubby orange hooked front teeth. The orangeness comes from the dental enamel that makes nutria easily recognizable. They look to have been drinking Tang. Anyone remember this drink?

Note the distinctive orange teeth.

The dramatic increase in the number of nutria along with their wholesale destruction of aquatic plants in the bayous and estuaries of Louisiana led in 1958 to a bounty being placed on thm. Louisiana paid $5 per tail for the nutria. Over time the bounty system led to a reduction in their numbers. Nevertheless, the remaining tail-less carcass often was often thrown into the water, reducing the water’s oxygen content and negatively affecting the fish. This consequence led folks to question whether the nutria’s lean protein source could be used in some other way, such as a source of food. Might some other practical use for nutria be found?

Admittedly, the idea of promoting and selling nutria as a meat source has proved challenging. The critters have mistakenly been called “river rats” rather than the rodents they truly are. Who would wish to eat a rat? Nutria actually are more like squirrels which in some parts of the country remains a food source. Various chefs have come up with dishes using nutria. Nutria spaghetti casserole has been suggested and nutria meat has been mixed with pork to make sausage. It also has been used in dog treats.

Despite the influx in recent years of nutria into the State of Texas, to my knowledge no bounty system has been established at least in our County, nor have I seen a nutria dish on the menu of any restaurant I frequent. If nutria are to be controlled either a bounty or some practical use will need to be found.

Not long ago I asked my lovely wife, Trudy, if I were to shoot a nutria if she would cook it? Her disgusted look spoke volumes. I didn’t even make it to the part in my spiel, saying how it was gluten-free and low in cholesterol. No, I can’t see nutria or even squirrel being served at the Hutton house any time soon.

A company in Louisiana has also tried to push the use of its fur again and calls its product “righteous fur.” It has lined mini-skirts and has been fashioned into neck wraps. The orange nutria teeth have also been utilized in jewelry making. I don’t know if any of these practical uses for nutria products will catch on but without some practical reason to hunt or trap this critter, I fear for my home State of Texas. I also worry as well for other States and worry for the rest of our country as to what is yet to come. Beware, the nutria are coming, the nutria are coming!

Do the readers of this blog have problems with nutria where they live?