Category Archives: Animals on the ranch

Celestial Pasture

Doc, our roan gelding

Doc, our roan gelding, and Fancy, our paint filly, failed to show up for their morning meal several days ago. While not entirely novel, Doc does love his food and hasn’t missed many meals.

The next morning in front of our home I found Doc lying on the ground. Beside him stood Fancy, alternatively looking from Doc to me. She appeared anxious.

Our paint horse Fancy sensed Doc’s distress

Fancy acted as if she knew Doc was in serious trouble. The horses had made it to where they knew I would find them. Doc had been in obvious pain, as he had rub marks on both sides of his head. He was weak, shaky, and initially could not regain his feet.

With prodding Doc stood up and walked slowly to the barn, a distance of three quarters of a mile. There we loaded him into the trailer and I drove him to our vet’s clinic.

Fancy wanted to go too.  She followed Doc to the barn and had to be haltered and tied to the hitching post or else she too would have climbed into the trailer. This was no surprise as she has been utterly devoted to the big roan ever since her arrival at our ranch.

Doc will be missed

Unfortunately my story doesn’t have a happy ending. We learned Doc had colic, likely resulting from a twisted colon. He was suffering. At his advanced age his chances of survival, even with major surgery, were not good. His heart rate continued to be high despite three times the usual amount of sedation and pain medication– his elevated heart rate reflecting his discomfort. Unfortunately, after learning the limited options, we had to put him down. Talk about a painful decision to have to make.

All that day Fancy had stood waiting at the gate through which Doc left the ranch that morning. She continued to gaze longingly down the road, waiting for Doc’s trailer to return.

When finally I drove the pickup and trailer onto the ranch, Fancy followed it at full gallop. She ran around the trailer with mane flowing, nostrils flared, and tail held high. She circled excitedly behind the trailer, looking within it. Not seeing Doc, she shook her head, and headed off to a nearby pasture.  Fancy appeared agitated.

I’m certain Fancy missed Doc and showed signs of her grief. I am worried about her. Animals are capable of showing affection, grief, and longings, as do humans. Admittedly, I have never viewed great affection between horses and their human companions, at least not like I have between dogs and humans, but today I witnessed clear signs of affection between a filly and a gelding.

We have been trying to console Fancy. She has received extra attention and treats. We even had a horse from a neighboring come over for a visit. Fancy and Trooper  enjoyed each other and his visit seemed to raise Fancy’s spirits. We hope Trooper will return.

Fancy isn’t the only one who will miss Doc. He was a good and gentle horse. I traveled many a mile on his broad back. My favorite memories of Doc are with children astride. Doc was a great child’s horse. Even in his later years when his arthritis caused his retirement from trail rides, Doc would accept children to sit on his bare back. There the children would pat the big horse and view the world in what I hoped was from a different perspective. Doc received vast amounts of carrots and apples from appreciative children who would come to Medicine Spirit Ranch mainly for the purpose of seeing him, patting him, and feeding him.

One teenage neighbor girl who used to ride him regularly in his more active days was once spotted lying on his back, sound asleep. Doc was so gentle he would not move without his rider urging him to do so. What a peaceful memory!

We are left with only our memories of Doc, as he has departed Medicine Spirit Ranch for his Celestial Pasture. Let’s hope he finds laughing, excited children to sit astride his broad back. Doc would like that.

At The End Of The Road

 

You might recall the stray dog that wandered onto our ranch several years ago that we named Little Jack Kerouac. We named him after the author of the same name who wrote On The Road and who was the forerunner of a beatnik. Our Little Jack had been wandering the county roads of Gillespie County for months and had traveled many miles when the skinny pup was finally herded into a corner of our yard by our Border collies. The small brown dog was half-starved and intensely fearful. His fear, nevertheless, relented before a succulent piece of fried chicken, prompting the little brown dog to climb into my arms.

Despite his bad condition from his long tenure as a road dog, it became apparent that he had been neutered and house broken. These aspects suggested at one time Jack had enjoyed a close relationship with a human friend.

Yours truly ready to work on the ranch with assistants Jack and Bella.

We still don’t know what all he encountered as a road dog and Jack isn’t talking. We suspect he must have scrounged whatever he could find to eat including roadkill. We know Jack is a canny survivor.

His breeding has proved an ongoing mystery. When asked what breed he is, we finally gave up guessing and simply began replying, “He’s a Texas Brown Dog.”

Since Jack’s arrival, let’s just say… he’s matured and settled in well. He has adapted to his new home on a hill at the end of his very long road.

Sometime ago I wrote several blog pieces on Jack stealthily loading himself into various vehicles and stowing away for rides. We do not think he was trying to escape his adopted home but that he merely wanted to go for rides. Fortunately, after a few bad moments of being unable to locate Little Jack, we were able to place phone calls and have him returned.

Jack is no longer the skinny road dog he once was. He has, in fact, chunked up. He still loves to go on ranch walks, run errands and ride in the pickup. Whereas the Borders ride in the bed of the pickup, Little Jack proudly expects to sit on the console in the cab where, if hot, the AC is on and, if cold, the heater warms him. He likes his creature comforts.

When our Borders are let out of the pickup to exercise by running up the hill to the house, Jack preemptively jumps off the console and hides in the back seat. No silly running up the hill for Little Jack. Why get out of a perfectly good pickup and wear out my foot pads?

At night Jack has inched his way closer and closer to the head of the bed. Initially when he came into our lives he slept under the bed or on a nearby dog bed. He later transferred to the foot of the bed. Now Trudy and I find the little rascal snuggled between us, his head lying on a soft pillow. Imagine going from the hard life of a road dog to a pillow top mattress!

Jack likely thinks, “Heck with Pearl Buck’s ideas of a place in the sun, I have a soft mattress in an air conditioned home.” When asleep, he becomes an almost immovable lump. If Trudy or I get up in the middle of the night, he migrates to the vacated warm spot, claims it, and is difficult to dislodge.

It’s said every dog has its purpose. The purpose of our Border collies is clear, herding our cattle. Jack’s purpose has been harder to determine. Surprisingly, he sometimes has helped the Border collies with herding. But mainly Jack is a varmint dog and represents an absolute terror for squirrels and armadillos. This job of protecting the world from squirrels and armadillos, though, is not full time for our Little Jack.

Several years ago my mother came to live with us and it was then that we learned what Jack’s real job was–companionship. My elderly mother would sit on the couch for hours with Jack snuggled up against her, stroking his furry head. He returned her affection with gentle licks and made his belly available for endless scratching. Mom and Jack became thick as thieves, although we worried my Mom might rub Jack’s head bald.

“I think I can still feel the pea!”

My mother possessed a huge capacity to love, and in her final years she so enjoyed Jack’s companionship. Jack became a willing recipient for her love, and in turn he reciprocated his love for her. I’m convinced Jack made her final days much happier.

I suppose companionship is the major role for many dogs. Dogs have such an amazing ability to relate to humans, to sense their emotions, and to offer their unconditional love. It takes all kinds of dogs, but Jack has stolen our hearts and in their places left behind his paw prints.

May The Force Be With You

The well known statement from “Star Wars” that serves as the title for this piece has of late developed special meaning for me. Perhaps I am still under the emotional overhang of my father’s recent passing, but the ease by which he passed has meaning for me. Dad died at the age of 96-years peacefully and in his sleep. His force to live diminished in his final months to a point where he was no longer walking, then no longer chewing, and then even refusing to swallow liquid supplements. His life force slowly ebbed away.

Dad (John Howard Hutton) when his life force was strong

In juxtaposition with Dad’s dying process has been my observation of an unfortunate, recently born calf on our ranch. Now I am in no way equating the value of the two lives, only making a comparison of their life forces.

Newest bottle calf being fed by Trudy with his good-for-nothing, calf-stomping mother looking on

The calf was refused milk by his mother for reasons unknown. Not only that but she kicked the calf nearly to unconsciousness when he tried to nurse. Later the mother calf became spooked and backed up, stomping her calf. Frankly I thought she had killed it.

Nevertheless, the following morning the previous “calf carcass” took a full bottle of milk. What a surprise! He’s not developed normally but is still making slow progress. He has a left front leg injury, one of the several spots where his mother stepped on him. Our newest bottle calf refused to die and continues to gain weight and hobbles about to a limited degree. I sometimes have to provide extra lift for the calf for him to get onto his four wobbly legs. As he grows, this may become a serious problem.

Given his miraculous survival, we refer to him as Phoenix. He rose off the pasture where he was near death and now greets Trudy and me with his long eyelashes for which Madonna would be envious, lovely dark eyes, and enthusiastic sucking at the milk bottle that sustains his life.

Mythological Phoenix

He still is not guaranteed survival. It seems his legs are too weak at times to get him up or possibly too painful. His walking is unsteady and wobbly and Phoenix tends to fall on uneven ground.

Nevertheless, Phoenix possesses a strong life force. I suppose this has to do with his young age and strong survival instincts. Regarding my Father, I cannot help but believe that after 96-years and having lived a full life that his life force had diminished down to nothing.

Grandson Graham earlier today feeding a somewhat older Phoenix

I recall the answer my grandmother gave when I asked her as a child what it was like to get old. She said, “Tommy, you just get tired.” I think she was right. Increasing fatigue accompanies age and illness. In my experience as a physician, folks just kind of give up at some point and are ready to die. Age seems to have a lot to do with it.

In my recently published book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales I tell the story of a little girl with Reye’s Syndrome who by all accounts should have died. Despite an absolutely horrible prognosis she lived and thrived. I believe her young age had much to do with her survival. The force was with her.

To my readers, “May the force be with you,” by which I imply continued strong life forces and may you enjoy vital life in the years ahead.

The Birds, The Birds… They’re Back

I recently viewed a dozen or so cattle egrets within and perched upon our cow herd. These white, long necked, and long legged birds have been absent from our ranch for about a year. Our cattle tolerate them well. I couldn’t get close enough to take a picture of them but have some images taken from the internet.

The relationship between the egrets and cattle is a symbiotic one, as the egrets eat flies and ticks off the cattle. Both egret and cow have mutual benefit from their relationship.

What I discovered yesterday was that the egrets also provide entertainment for our friskier Spring calves. The calves playfully run at them, scattering the birds for a short fly around. The egrets soon after land in the herd and the chase is on again. The calves appeared to be enjoying themselves, but I can’t speak for the egrets.

Several times recently I’ve spotted a Great Blue Heron hanging out in the pool below the waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch (our ranch across the county road). I can’t say for sure that it’s the same one about which I wrote the blog series last winter, but it looks the same. It’s dramatic to view it taking off from the pool, gaining altitude, and flying by me at eye level and not more than 20 feet away. According to Native American legend Great Blue Herons bring good luck. Bring it on!

Bulletin: Just viewed a Great Blue Heron in our stock tank below the house. It’s back! What wonderful news. Life is good in the Texas Hill Country.

I’m back

Welcome Home Gentle Giant

Our bull’s injury is the biggest news this week from Medicine Spirit Ranch. Curly, our Charolais bull, recently developed an unwillingness to place weight on his right back leg. His ankle swelled and he hobbled around on just three legs. After loading him into the trailer and hauling him across town to our vet’s clinic, we learned why this was. Curly had developed an abscess from a cut on his hoof. Ouch! That must have really hurt, big guy.

Curly, our Charolais bull

Hauling Curly is always a memorable experience. Our small cattle trailer can hold up to ten calves but hauling them is less difficult than when hauling Curly by himself.  He is so large he weighs down the trailer such that the back end of the pickup and the trailer hitch reach almost to the ground. When Curly shifts his weight in the trailer, the whole pickup lurches. It makes for quite a ride. Our vet, who sees plenty of bulls in his work, even commented on what a large but gentle bull he is.

Curly spent a week at the vet’s receiving antibiotics. During this time he was limited to a stall, a large one but limiting for sure. I don’t recall him ever being confined before, and he didn’t like it. I know he was hurting, but somehow I think his apparent discontent resulted less from his injury and more from his unusual location and lack of his herd.

I may be over interpreting, but Curly did not look happy at the vet’s. This proud king-of-his-herd guy was dirty, seemed to have lost interest in what was going around him, and appeared to mope. These are not typical behaviors for our Charolais bull. Can bulls become depressed? He sure looked it.

After recently receiving the call from the clinic saying he was ready to come home. I attached the trailer to my pickup. I headed into town to load and haul Curly back to his ranch, his green pastures, and his waiting herd. The herd had even expanded in his absence by three new calves.

While Curly still moves around slowly, he now does so on all four hooves. We no longer have a three legged bull which I consider a very good thing. I don’t think Curly would be able to do his job on one hind leg.  Curly also appears happier now that he is back at his own ranch.

Our gentle giant- “Open wide for a range cube”

 

GUESS IT JUST GOES TO SHOW, OUR GENTLE GIANT IS A HOMEBODY.

Buddy, “Nice to see you again Curly.”

Bonus Calves

Woo hoo!!! Three bonus calves were born this week. That is, mama cows purchased in September with calves already by their side, and now have given birth to yet another unanticipated calf. The average price for the pair, now the trio, just went down. What a bargain!

Surprise, bet you weren’t expecting me!

The bonus calves have white faces with the remainder black or brown. Our Charolais bull does not throw this color calf with our Black Baldies, but instead throws smoky colored calves, light brown or gray. Also the cow gestation period of nine and a half months just doesn’t work for our Charolais bull. Sorry Curly you can’t claim parentage!

Curly, the bonus calves stepdaddy

These are small calves compared to our usual smoky calves. With an Angus daddy, the calves start  smaller than with a Charolais daddy.  All three of the bonus calves are heifers. Perhaps I will let them grow and given their different genetics, make them into new producers for the ranch. Now that is an additional bonus.

The first bonus heifer at one week of age. Note smoky calf on right and a longhorn/charlolais cross in foreground

Baby calves are so cute no matter their lineage. Must admit though when I saw the first I took a double take. You can imagine my surprise after the third. Life is sweet. Spring calves are one of the highlights of springtime on our cattle ranch. Hoping you too find bonuses in your lives during this lovely season.

Dogs and Storms

We experienced a tornado watch with lightning, thunder, and almost two inches of rain. While I am always pleased when rain falls on the ranch, Buddy, our senior Border collie, doesn’t see it quite the same way.

Buddy is on the right

You see, Buddy is scared to death of storms. During a storm he will either hide under the bed, crawl behind the toilet in the bathroom, or take cover in my closet. The latter is rather poetic since that’s where he was born almost twelve years ago.

I worry about Buddy’s bladder capacity during these storms but have found him difficult, if not impossible, to dislodge from his safe spot. Last night I stuck my head under the bed and tried to talk him into going outside. Buddy who is normally very well mannered and responds immediately to commands, stared right back at me, as if he had suddenly gone deaf and paralyzed.

I sensed he was telepath-ing me a message that went something like this, “You must be nuts Buster if you think I’m getting out from under this bed in this terrible weather!!!” When I increase my encouragement to the extent of physically trying to remove him, Buddy growls. It is not a menacing growl nor one that worries me. He would never bite me but his lack of enthusiasm for going outside becomes quite clear.

Poor Buddy, thunder visibly shakes him up. His eyes become furtive, he shivers, and he takes immediate cover. With his dog ears, he knows when a storm is approaching far earlier than his seemingly deaf, slow footed human companions. (Our good points consist of feeding him, having cattle to herd, and letting him ride in a pickup.) I know we could get Buddy some doggy Xanax but the storms are pretty rare and, well, I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Buddy is getting on in years but his tolerance for storms is not improving with age. Typically after feeding the stock and doing ranch chores in good weather, he retreats behind a screen in the living room where we have his dog bed (actually one of three). There he can look out from beneath the screen, avoid the canine rambunctiousness of Jack and Bella, stay out of the human traffic patterns, and get a good nap. We refer to this corner of the living room as “Buddy’s Office.”

If the weather turns bad, Buddy slinks off to the bathroom, my closet, and at night to under our bed. He actually is able to find safe places which convinces me this dog is really safety conscious.

The storms bother Little jack not one bit. Jack, our “Texas Brown Dog” adopted us three years ago after surviving on the road for over a month. Guess he got used to storms.

Bella, our female Border collie, has some wariness of storms in that this is the only time she becomes  affectionate. Last night during the storm she climbed up on my chest, put her head next to my neck, and laid there. This is most unBella-like behavior! She just doesn’t take well to affection. But last night she proceeded to lick my face with he raspy tongue until she had removed several layers of skin and acted like she had missed me for an eternity.

Am hoping for better weather tonight and a better night’s sleep.

Bella on the left and Jack on the right