Category Archives: Animals on the ranch

Visual Treats From Medicine Spirit Ranch

I’m overdue for a blog post, although I’ve lately put more words down on paper than is typical for me. This is because Little Jack Kerouac, our Texas Brown Dog, has been dictating his memoir of his first year and a half before adopting us. Acting as Jack’s scribe has taken more time than I anticipated, but answers many questions such as where he came from, why he hates panel trucks, squirrels, and armadillos, and why he feels so at home at Medicine Spirit Ranch.

Jack reclining on his chair, dictating his backstory

I will post Jack’s story in the near future and do so as a series of posts. In the meantime I offer my readers inspiring pictures of nature’s wonders at Medicine Spirit Ranch. Such sights give me a feeling of awe and wonderment. Below are some of my favorites that I hope you too will enjoy.

View of Medicine Spirit Ranch on a misty morn

A large buck standing as if posing in front of our barn

Dandy, our roan gelding

Painted Buntings have been prevalent this year. Their beauty never fails to stop me in my tracks

Ground feeding Cardinals are daily visitors to our bird feeders

Great Blue Herons according to folklore predict good luck. The ducks have proven less successful because of predators

Wildflowers such as the Bluebonnet grace our ranch in the Spring

The waterfall that gives Hidden Falls Ranch its name

The ranch just wouldn’t be the same without Border collies. From bottom to top: Bandit, Molly, and Buddy

Sunset at the ranch

Nature has a healing effect and of this I am certain. I hope these glimpses of life at Medicine Spirit Ranch provide you with a measure of pleasure and awe that I regularly experience.

Oh, and Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers!

Horse Sense

Dandy (on the left) and Fancy (on the right) at an earlier meal

Horse behavior like other animal behavior interests me. Usually the nature of horse behavior is self-protection from injury or threat. Such an example I witnessed today. I’ve always known the term “horse sense” but had not thought much about it until today.

The origin of horse sense is likely ancient but in 1870 the New York magazine The Nation offered the following description of horse sense as it applies to humans: “The new phrase, born in the west we believe, of horse sense which is applied to the intellectual ability of men who exceed others in practical wisdom.”

But how does the term apply to horses? This morning I delayed my ranch work today in order to complete my workout routine. I failed to notice the gathering of dark clouds and the freshening of the breeze. A storm had been predicted but arrived earlier than predicted. When I looked out the window of my house and saw the rain down in the valley, I tore out, jumped in my pickup, and drove to the pens to feed the horses. I struggled with my umbrella, as I made serial trips with scoops of feed from the feed sack in the back of my pickup to the horse trough. My umbrella kept getting turned up in the gusty wind.

Meanwhile I looked up and saw Fancy and Dandy, our two horses, standing together in a nearby pasture under a Post Oak tree. They followed my goings and comings with interest, as both perked up their ears and stared in my direction. Neither, however, moved even a single hoof toward the horse trough. Usually they see my approach at feeding time and come running.

I suspect they sensed that walking around in a thunderstorm was not a very good idea. Is this what is known as horse sense? While both love nothing better than chowing down on their daily meal, I learned in this instance that eating would just have to wait until after the storm.

I consider this an example of horse sense. Maybe the horses proved they have it and their human companion doesn’t. He was foolish enough to get out in the rain and presented a moving but tempting target for the lightning. The horses might have even thought themselves more intelligent than the rancher, something the Border collies at Medicine Spirit Ranch figured it out a long time ago.

Maybe W. C. Fields was right when he described horse sense as the thing a horse has which keeps him from betting on humans.

I sure know enough not to get out in a thunderstorm

So do I but these humans act pretty strange sometimes

A Dandy Addition To Our Ranch

Dandy, newly arrived roan gelding

Recently we had a new horse arrive at Medicine Spirit Ranch. He’s a roan gelding that belongs to my ranch hand, Juan. A friend of Juan’s gave him the horse, but Juan had no land on which the horse could graze. He asked if he could leave it at Medicine Spirit Ranch. I’ll end up feeding and treating the horse, if the latter is needed, but in return Juan will take care of the hooves of both the roan and our Paint horse, Fancy.

I said yes as the big red horse will herd up with Fancy and replace our recently departed Doc. When the papers arrived we learned the horse’s name was Dandy. It’s around eight years old and is said to be rope trained. I assume at one time Dandy was a roping horse as is typical for many quarter horses.

Dandy (on the left) and Fancy (on the right) get along well.

Word is Dandy is a great riding horse but hasn’t been ridden in awhile. Without question Juan who is a skilled horseman will be first up on Dandy. Dandy is friendly and very gentle. He likes to  nuzzle me on the neck and be scratched. He loves carrots but surprisingly won’t eat apples.

Dandy is not afraid of Little Jack and Bella, two of our dogs, who despite our best efforts continue to strafe the horses. Dandy stands his ground, puts down his big head with the white blaze and star, and holds his ground. Like sensible animals, the dogs veer off and instead chase a fleeing Fancy.

Dandy up close and personal

We look forward to getting to know Dandy. No doubt stories will follow as I observe his explorations of his new surroundings.

Let’s all welcome Dandy to Medicine Spirit Ranch.

A Sad Day On The Ranch

We are well into Spring calving season but today unfortunately we lost a calf. One of our mama cows was found agitated and having great difficulty delivering a calf. The calf was large and although the cow had previously calved without difficulty, she couldn’t deliver this calf.   We were to learn the calf was hung up at the shoulder (referred to as shoulder dystocia) and was clearly dead when we found the distressed mama.

The vet and her assistant came in an emergency call. We pulled the calf, using what is a essentially a “come along”. Following this the mama was able to get to her feet although clearly exhausted from a night of labor. Currently she’s in the pen where I will be giving her, if needed, shots of oxytocin to assist her in pushing out the placenta.

I’m sad over the loss of the little bull calf. I suppose for me this is therapy via my keyboard. I know occasionally we’ll lose a calf and, rarely, even a mama cow, but it still bothers me greatly. The sensation recalls how i felt during my practice when I would lose a patient to death. While inevitable, it still hurts. I never got used to it while practicing and suspect I will never get used to it ranching.

Ironically I was about to pick up a spreader full of fertilizer (8000 pounds) and begin treating our hay fields. Instead of fertilizer bringing forth new life, we instead lost life in a birthing process. Such is ranch life, I suppose, and tomorrow I’ll return to fertilizing. Meanwhile I will ponder the life that wasn’t. Such is life on the ranch. Happier days will follow.

Buddy- The Slacker

Authors Note: In my last blog piece (A Sense Of Place), I referenced an old story. Slacker, that on reflection I might not have ever posted. My apologies, if I am repeating. The piece is a bit long especially the lead in. but I encourage you to stick with it. A very young Buddy surprised both Trudy and me with the greatest feat of herding I have personally ever witnessed. This is where in “gangsta” terms, he “made his bones.”

Buddy’s potential for becoming a phenomenal herding dog suddenly becomes evident. Now that Buddy has become an old dog and a risk adverse dog and with his best herding days far behind him, recollection of his early herding prowess fills me with pride. I hope you enjoy this reflection.- JTH

A young Buddy posing

Wire mesh panels hung askew from the thick steel cable. What had breached this water gap was immediately evident to me, as our bull had proved to be a breakout artist and an all-too-frequent explorer of Live Oak Valley. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed, reluctantly. “Guess what? Bull’s missing.”

“Oh shit, not again?” my wife shouted into the phone.

I flinched. Then I heard a long sigh followed by a pause before Trudy responded, “Be there in a few.”

Fifteen minutes later Trudy and I hiked the dank creek bottom at our Texas ranch. It smelled of decaying vegetation and heady juniper. I also had a sense of my own building desperation. Trudy’s glare described her lack of enthusiasm for another bull chase. She hesitated near the destroyed blowout fence, shook her head and pivoted to face me.

“Can’t believe the damned bull’s out again.” Her eyes were slit-like, her arms crossed, and her lips held tightly together. “What’s it Francisco calls him?” By reminding me, she had already inflicted a verbal wound.

Hamburguesa,” I whispered, careful to avoid locking gazes.

“Ah yes, Hamburguesa,” she boomed. “And why, pray tell, why did he call him that?”

I gave a mental shrug. “Well, Francisco grumped that the next time he met the bull, he wanted him between two buns at McDonald’s.”

Trudy’s hand shot up, jabbing the air emphatically, “Yeah, sounds good to me too, make mine a double bull burger and hold the cheese! After all, I’m watching my calories, you know.”

She gave a brief, tension mitigating smile. I nodded and bent low beneath the creek-spanning steel cable. When a flash flood occurs—a fairly regular occurrence in the Texas Hill Country, the incredible force of the raging water tears the wire panels away from their metal fence posts. This allows the panels to swing back and under the cable so that limbs, trees, and other flood-related detritus can flow under the panels rather than rip out the entire fence line. As useful as these water gaps are, they are  the weakest point in the fence line and where lusty bulls typically break out.

With careful steps Trudy and I trudged along the creek bank as my gaze glanced into the stream, unable to resist the urge. Growing up in Texas, I’d heard many stories about poisonous snakes. Standard fare at Boy Scout campfires, almost as common as consuming s’mores, had been stories of wriggling water moccasins boiling up from the depths of a creek and pulling down an unfortunate person to a slithering, agonizing death. While no real proof existed for this often-repeated tale of woe, we Scouts were convinced such horrible occurrences must have happened.

Trudy’s pace hesitated, distracting me from my obsessive serpentine thoughts. She turned toward me. “Why is it, COW-BOY, after countless breakouts, you haven’t sold that roaming ruminant and bought a bull with instincts more akin to a homesick prairie dog?”
Ouch, I recognized a practiced soliloquy when I heard one. She must be seething.

Charolois bull in a less distracted state


I felt Trudy’s frustration as fully as did she. In the past we’d scoured the hills and valleys of neighboring ranches, searching for our missing bull. We’d navigated treacherous arroyos, advanced through nearly impenetrable stands of juniper, and skittered down rocky embankments on our pained backsides, all of which had inevitably left us sore, scraped, frustrated, and barely speaking.

I had not missed her enunciation of “COW-BOY” and her sharpness of tone. While stinging, I was relieved my lawyer/wife had used it, rather than one of her scatological, so-called “legal terms of art.”

“Well Trudy, he was expensive, out of a champion line. And he throws great calves.” This is your final foray, big guy. It’s a one-way trip for you to the auction barn.

She paused to speak but before she could argue further, her foot slipped off a wet rock and she splashed into the shallow creek bottom. I heard her emit a grunt and saw her face develop a scowl worthy of Ivan the Terrible during a bad toothache.

“Yikes, this water’s arctic!“

“You okay?”

“You ask me, this freakin’ bull’s got the lineage of a bulldozer crossed with a race horse!” Frustration basted her voice, as she scrambled out of the icy, spring-fed creek.
This isn’t going to be fun.

Desperate for Trudy’s help, I felt mollifying her was a must, as teamwork would determine our already limited chances for success. “Well, we may need to sell the big guy. His episodes are getting more frequent and he’s learned to outsmart us.”

My good friend and neighbor, Tom, his three young grandchildren, Trudy, Francisco, and I had chased the bull on multiple occasions. Tom’s grandchildren, careening about the neighboring ranches in Tom’s four-wheel ranch utility vehicle, had relished the pursuits to a much greater extent than had we. Tom’s grandchildren once had even pleaded, “Grandpa, next time we’re at the ranch can we pleeeease chase the bull again?”

But in this instance “Colonel Tom,” as we called him, and his young charges were unavailable and Francisco was away from the ranch for the weekend. The task of rounding up our wayward bull fell solely to Trudy and me. We were feeling clearly over-matched. But we had little choice but immediately to take action, as the bull had escaped in the direction of a ranch known for its prize-winning Angus. A white calf amid a herd of Black Angus stood out like a beacon, as with great embarrassment I had once before experienced.

While all marriages have disagreements, often over money, sex, or how best to raise children, our marriage had matured to the banal stage where these bull chases represented the principal challenge to our marital bliss. Okay bull, this time it’s gonna be you or me.

I had left Buddy, our nine-month old Border collie back inside the pickup with the windows partially down for ventilation. Before heading down the creek, my parting glimpse of the young dog was of him perched in the back seat with his left ear standing up and his right ear flopped over. Buddy had never been able to elevate his right ear, a maturational quirk I assumed, but one that imparted a comical and eternally youthful appearance.

Buddy when a little older and after bringing his ear under control

Trudy and I continued down the creek bank. Here we are busting our butts, chasing the bull while our lazy dog snatches a snooze in the pickup. What good is a working dog that just sleeps in the pickup? What a worthless slacker he is! Maybe I should get rid of him at the same time I get rid of the bull?

Trudy and I rock-hopped our way down the shaded creek bottom where slivers of sunlight created silvery streaks in the rolling creek water. We ducked beneath bowing branches of live oaks, dodged flickering cottonwoods, and pushed through pungent juniper whose needles clawed at our exposed skin.

Trudy’s hair became disheveled with twigs tangled within her neck length, curly russet locks. The burbling creek and rustling leaves of the cottonwood trees seemed to hint at what an impossible challenge lay ahead for us.

A quarter of a mile into the adjacent ranch, in an area overgrown with clinging brush and waist high native grasses, we discovered the neighbor’s cattle. This occasion also revealed the location of our bull. Cool Spirit, our peripatetic bull, stood in the middle of a scraggly herd of mixed breed cattle, languidly licking the neck of an old, skinny cow whose bones bulged out under her hide like a hastily built stork’s nest. The old saw came to mind how women in the bar get better looking after midnight, and I wondered if a similar sentiment might also hold true for horny bulls.

Of all the forms of love, lust seems the easiest to dispense with as it simply defies logic. Hillary Clinton once described her husband, Bill- America’s best-known philanderer, as too often thinking solely with his little head. This implies the sexual urge is a strong, an even overpowering one at times. After all our bull had charged through seven-stranded barbed wire fences, accepting untold cuts to be with an intoxicating, pheromone-secreting cow. Bill Clinton also had paid his public penance as a result of his libidinous escapes.

Just then something jarred my thoughts back to reality.
“You see that big bull over there?” Trudy said.

I shifted my gaze. “Good Lord,” I croaked, my voice cracking like a teenager. Apprehension shot through me like a jolt of electricity. By then the red bull before me had lowered its head and was advancing in the direction of our Charolais bull. Our bull had already spotted him, and had shifted his attention from the homely target of his desire toward the threat of the approaching bull. Our bull in turn lowered his white, curly topped head. The two bulls glared, snorted, and scraped hooves at each other from a distance of less than thirty yards.

Each bull weighed well over a ton. I felt my worry rocketing higher. Oh my god, we sure ‘nuf don’t need a bullfight.

Unfortunately our approach seemed to act like a starter’s pistol. Just as Trudy and I crept forward, both bulls became determined to establish their dominion over the scraggly herd. They began pawing in earnest at the ground with their huge cloven hooves, throwing sprays of brown dirt under their massive, bulging bellies.

Their aggressive displays, fearful as they were to us, deterred neither bull and soon gave way to full, all out combat. The bulls, like two race cars off the starting line, ran at each other, crashing head on. Locked head to head with  their muscles rippling, they strained to drive the other into a compromised position. The bulls continually emitted loud and fearsome sounds like preternatural beasts from Hades. Their ruckus kicked up a thin cloud of dust that carried on it their rank aroma.

Locked in combat their heated battle raged back and forth across the shallow creek bed. The bulls’ massive blows caused the very ground under my feet to shudder. Their enormous bodies knocked over small trees, as if broomsticks, and they splashed through the rocky creek bottom with a dull clattering of their hooves.

Appalled by this brawl, Trudy and I scrambled to find safety behind a large Live Oak tree. We cautiously peered around its trunk and observed the ongoing fight. I felt powerless to intervene, having by then lost any hope of driving our bull back to our ranch.

I felt thoroughly dejected. The escalating circumstances had outstripped my limited capacity for retrieving our bull. Just on reaching this emotional low point, a flicker of movement caught my attention. I swiveled my head and caught sight of a black and white form flash by.

Recognition set in a second later, as both Trudy and I gasped in unison. Young Buddy, ignoring our shouted, desperate entreaties, raced headlong into the midst of the horrific bullfight.

“God, he’s going to be killed,” yelled Trudy, her cry barely rising above the din of the mêlée. Trudy turned and slumped down next to the tree, no doubt fearful for what was likely to follow- the killing of our half grown dog.

The bulls, focusing fully on their fight, paid no heed to the yapping dog. With the bulls locked in a violent head-to-head embrace, Buddy circled behind our Charolais. Relinquishing further attempts to intimidate with his high-pitched barking, Buddy instead gave the Charolais’ tail a vicious chomp. Startled by the attack and from an unanticipated direction, our white bull momentarily broke off the fight and took a hesitant step backward.

Our neophyte herder, sensing an opportunity, then circled and sped between the narrowly separated bulls. He charged maniacally at the red Shorthorn bull with his teeth bared. With a bite, as quick as a mongoose, Buddy gashed the red bull’s broad, dark nose. Blood flowed.

By biting him, Buddy had startled him and backed him off. Feigning a direct charge, Buddy was able to turn the Shorthorn slightly away from the Charolais. Then to my amazement, our young Border collie began to arc back and forth behind the Shorthorn moving him up a nearby hill.  At the same time, Buddy was able to gather the remainder of the herd and drive the lot of them out of the creek bed and up the hill.

I whispered to Trudy, “Oh my god! Would never have ever believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

“Is that vicious animal the same sweet puppy that licks my face first thing in the morning?”

When seemingly satisfied by the degree of separation between the two warring bulls, Buddy turned and loped back down the hill. He then made a kamikaze-like assault on our somewhat bewildered appearing Charolais, breaking it off at the last instant. This forced the bull to retreat several steps. Then after a series of charges, nips, and barks Buddy succeeded in turning him away from the retreating Shorthorn bull and ran the white leviathan along the winding creek bottom in the direction of our ranch.

“Come on, let’s trail him,” I urged, pulling Trudy from her sitting position to her feet.

Trudy and I scrambled out of our protected site and followed at a safe distance. We saw Buddy expertly drive the Charolais along the creek and into a copse of trees. When lost to sight, the ripping sound of breaking limbs along with Buddy’s urgent barks identified their location. Soon the bull emerged from the trees, hurried on by our overachieving, young canine. Buddy stayed after him providing constant herding pressure, hastening his always forward movement and in the direction of our ranch. The pair, bull and herder, soon passed through the broken fence line and back into our pasture.

I yelled to Trudy who trotted along creek bank, “How can a barely forty pound dog, too young to train, manage to break up a bullfight?” She shrugged her shoulders and turned her palms upward. I wondered where within Buddy’s DNA resided the knack for such shepherding? To this day, I stand in awe of the nascent abilities of Border collies.

Trudy approached me, her head down as if penitent. On nearing me she raised her head and flashed a warm smile and a coy head tilt. I noticed she now moved with greater fluidity and in a more relaxed, willow-like manner.

We did not know it then, but never again when the bull would break out of our ranch, would we encounter difficulty returning him- thanks to Buddy. On spotting our oncoming Border collie, our wayward bull would immediately reverse course and beeline it back toward our ranch— such was the respect the Charolais had for Buddy.

With newfound spring in my step, I headed for my pickup parked near the water gap. Nearby I spotted Buddy sitting on his haunches, intently staring in the direction of our grazing bull.

“Just look, that dog’s grinning like a fat man at a smorgasbord,” said Trudy.

Buddy bore an unmistakable snout-wrinkling doggie smile. She reached for my hand and gave it a warm, gentle squeeze. We stood hand-in-hand for several minutes, gazing upon our cattle and admiring our collie.

I would soon make the necessary repairs to the blowout fence, but first I wanted to savor the success of Buddy’s achievement along soaking up my wife’s affection. With my idle hand I leaned down and stroked Buddy’s soft, furry head. He was panting, his tongue bobbing up and down like a pink yo-yo. His amber eyes sparkled with excitement.

Over the next several minutes I sensed his adrenaline rush ebb away. As I stroked his silky fur, he laid back his ears, turned his head, and evidenced a satisfied gaze.

The bond between man and dog is like no other between animal and man. The empathy and understanding of a dog can slow the anxious human heart. The love of a dog remains steadfast, providing affectionate licks to the hand that may lack food to offer. That day I felt the loving bond between man and dog like I had never felt it before.

“Now that looks like one happy dog,” said Trudy. She moved closer, and we hugged.
“I’m sorry for being so cross earlier. You know I love you.”

Author with Buddy who was born to herd

“Forget it, perfectly understandable. You know, this dog of ours might just work out.”

Trudy’s face split in an endearing smile and I heard her emit a giggle, as warm as a toasted bun.

Buddy had not only herded massive animals that day, but also my lop-eared canine had herded my wife’s disposition from sour to mellow. I couldn’t decide which feat was the more impressive.

I did realize that love, like good wine and I Love Lucy reruns, only improves with time.
That memorable day left me with two thoughts that still resonate. The first is that love presents itself in unique ways be it intoxicating lust, the security of mature love, or the incredible and unique bond between man and dog. Love of many kinds empowers the soul and warms the heart.

The second consideration is that help can arrive, when least expected, and charge in on four paws and have a wet nose.

In The Deep Freeze

Frozen Waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch

Like most of our nation, Medicine Spirit Ranch has been really cold this past week. We have been  in the upper teens at night (I know this is nothing compared to the northern climes but cold for here). Whereas many folks around the country are tasked with shoveling snow, scraping windshields, and avoiding snowdrifts, at MSR the tasks that cold weather provokes differ.

My biggest challenge during a prolonged freeze is supplying water for the cattle and horse.  The lines taking water to the troughs soon froze. The cattle drank the available water. At this point I began hauling water and filled two water troughs.

Managed to fill two troughs with contents of this 210 water container

I then needed to chop ice on the water troughs twice a day to make the water available for the stock. I quickly realized as the ice got thicker that a better plan was needed. Pecan Creek flowed for several days providing water for the stock before it froze over. Fortunately our largest creek (Live Oak) continued to flow well.  I only needed to open certain gates to allow access for the stock, a strategy that seemingly always takes me awhile to figure out.

Our pool became a giant birdbath

My other need was to supply sufficient hay and protein supplementation for the animals. This requires moving 1000 pound round bales with the tractor and placing a bale in multiple hay rings. I also supply the cattle with range cubes (20% protein) and the horse with her high protein feed.

Trudy was feeling sorry for Fancy, our horse, as Fancy gazed longingly over the fence at the cattle. She has appeared lonely ever since Doc, our gelding, died months back. I opened the gate and allowed Fancy to herd up with the cattle. This works well with the exception that she likes to eat the cattle’s range cubes and the cattle like to eat her feed. Looks pretty comical to see half a dozen cows, head to head, eating out of a horse trough.

Fountain froze as well

I also opened up the barn for Fancy to go in at night. She hates to be locked up in a stall and would kick her way out so this option was out. Nevertheless, she leaves evidence that she goes into the open barn during the night and fortunately I’ve not found evidence that the cattle do.

Naturally during the coldest night of the year, two of our mama cows gave birth to two bull calves. How they survived being dropped wet during such freezing cold, I do not know. Nevertheless, both calves are doing well and scampering about. I think of the two calves as “Frosty” and “Ice Cube.”

So times have been challenging this week at Medicine Spirit Ranch. Am glad the temperatures have warmed. Fortunately we have made it through at least this cold spell with the animals surviving just fine and their rancher hoping for warmer weather.

Guess What We Found On Leaving Our Ranch Recently?

The other morning Trudy and I spotted something unrecognizable on the cattle guard at the edge of our ranch. Approaching closer I could tell it was a newborn calf, actually a Longhorn/Charolais cross. The poor little heifer had all four legs stuck between the pipes of the cattle guard and was totally helpless as she lay across the pipes.

The calf a week later doing well in the pasture

One surprising thing about a Longhorn calf is how quickly they stand up as opposed to other types of calves. This little heifer apparently stood up while its mother was down pasture grazing, wandered to a nearby cattle guard, and slipped and had ts legs plunge through it.

Trudy and I jumped out of the car and working together pulled the calf’s legs out from between the bars and carried it to the nearby grass. There we stood it up and encouraged it to move down the pasture to where its mother grazed. She saw us coming and raced to her calf. When last we saw the calf, it was chowing down at the milk bar.

The proud mother with calf by her side

The proud daddy, a Charolais bull

The calf has done well ever since. Let’s just hope it has good one trial learning when it comes to why cattle guards  are there in the first place. I did notice a few days later when we vaccinated her for blackleg that she didn’t seem at all afraid of me. Might she have been appreciative or at least remember me? I’ll never know. Turned out to be a pretty good excuse, though, as to why we were running late for Sunday School.