Category Archives: Animals on the ranch

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

Spring- How Lovely You Are

Bluebonnets & Paints

Spring is my favorite season. How can it not be? It’s is a colorful rebirth following the grayness of winter. New fawns and calves on wobbly legs appear, baby birds fly tentatively from their nests, calves wear milky mustaches, bushes blossom, multicolored wild flowers including the locally favorite bluebonnets suddenly erupt, and the trees leaf out in spring green. All signal the yearly, joyous rebirth and infuses us with new found energy, hope, and ambition.

Along with such beauty comes a need to prepare the ranch for the season. In past weeks we’ve taken to whacking down thistle plants (weeds) choosing to grow in my pastures and crowding out grass my stock so greatly needs. The spring calves have needed working and the horses show new found friskiness.

Our paint horse Fancy and Doc’s nose

A foggy day at the ranch

Fences require mending and cedar needs lopping. The physical work feels good but also fatigues me now more than it used to.

Life seems more vivid, more intense, and hopeful in the springtime. It’s also busier and wearing. Gosh, I love it so and hope i can keep up with it all. A joyous spring to all!

Smart And Protective Mama Cows

We are well into spring calving season with four new, adorable calves. Part of their welcome to the ranch is receiving a vaccination to ward off “black leg”, a particularly serious bacterial infection that kills calves. While our intentions are good, they are usually misunderstood by our always protective mama cows.

Such was the case recently when we roped, held, and tried to vaccinate a new calf. Mama cow took serious exception to our treatment her calf this way. While I attempted to give the subcutaneous injection, mama cow suddenly appeared and forcibly head butted me in the face. The syringe went one way, my glasses flew off in another, and I was pitched backwards unceremoniously. With a sore and bruised face and without glasses, I was virtually worthless. I also was quite vulnerable should she have chosen to take out her animus still further. Fortunately for me, she did not.

Somehow Trudy and Juan found both glasses and syringe, and we finished giving the vaccination to the calf without further incident.

I’ve been asked if I get upset with mama cows when such this happens, as this is not the first time something like this has transpired. My answer is no, as the mama cows are only protecting their offspring.

"You think you are going to do what to my calf?"

“You think you are going to do what to my calf?”

Whenever possible we sequester a calf needing a vaccination, an ear tag, or needing castration from the mother cow. We usually use the pens for these tasks and to great benefit .

On occasion we are not able to move a mama cow and her calf,  for example from the new ranch (Hidden Falls) across and down the county road  “a piece” into our other property (Medicine Spirit Ranch) where are located our only pens .  In such instances we are sorely tempted to try the quick and dirty method of lassoing, holding, and giving a vaccination in the pasture. Sometimes this works and in others I end up on my caboose or more commonly seeing the south end of a calf heading rapidly north.

Such was our ill-fated mission this morning accompanied by Trudy, Juan, and visiting “ranch hands”, LaNelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock.

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands

As soon as the mama cow spotted Juan creeping up on her calf with his lasso, she took off with her calf  behind her. To vaccinate this calf, we will need to drive the herd down the county road to Medicine Spirit Ranch and to the protection of our pens. This will have to wait until next week.

Such are the joys of ranching. And to think when I was a doctor never once was I injured. Since becoming a rancher, I’ve broken an arm, blew a disc in my low back, sustained bruises, cuts,
and contusions, and received numerous injuries to my male ego. Oh, but my wonderful outdoor existence along with Mother Nature showing off her wonders more than makes up for any challenges faced.

What a Goose Can Teach Us About Change

Look closely for the goose among the goat herd

Look closely for the goose among the goat herd

Some time ago, I posted a story of a goose joining a goat herd and how it had  become accepted and integrated within it. The goose has now been part of the goat herd for over a year and continues to waddle along inline with the goats as the herd parades single file across the pasture. No doubt the burro and llama also protect the goose from predators, just as they do the goats.
I began wondering why the goose remains in this unusual situation. This is, after all, unnatural as geese flock with other geese. Wouldn’t it prefer to be among a gaggle of its own kind? Flocks of geese have flown overhead the goose and a large flock of geese resides in Lady Bird Park, not more than five miles away as the goose flies. Despite these opportunities to be more goose-like, this goat-loving goose seems perfectly contented to stay a member of its mixed herd. I am aware that if a burro or llama is raised within a goat herd that it develops protective tendencies for the herd and perhaps in a similar way a young goose becomes comfortable with a herd of goats or cattle. I have also seen an example of the latter when two baby geese were raised on a cattle ranch and later joined the cattle herd..

Recently I was visiting with a friend who has his doctorate in counseling psychology and who did his dissertation on the difficulty in making life changes. I shared this unusual goat story with him. He reminded me that we grow up in our specific environments and tend to accept in a unquestioning manner the opinions of our parents and other significant individuals in our lives. As youth we accept these opinions as absolute truths. Later in life when confronted with facts to the contrary, most folks cannot fully embrace the new information enough to change their long held opinions. Instead they often do mental gymnastics in order to cling to their own outmoded views. Change is hard and its threatening.

Why is this? Well according to my friend, Doctor Jim Spruiell who has 50 years of psychotherapy experience, when we venture too far from our traditional comfort zones, we lose the feeling of  safety. We might wish to change, say quit smoking or change our attitudes or ideas, or favorite sports team, religion, or even political party but such things are foreign to our natures and end up threatening our comfort zone. The subconscious has a major impact on our rational behavior even when change may be the logical course of action.

How does this relate to our one unusual goose? While I have no idea how the goose came to find itself among the herd of goats, it apparently has adapted and the herd has fully accepted it. This has become the expected norm for this goose. The inability to break this pattern would call for a leap of faith on the part of the goose and would take it away from its current protected state.

To a degree aren’t we all tribal in this way? We are comfortable within our belief systems, social crowd, political party, fan club, and interest groups. To break out from these comfortable norms creates apprehension and anxiety. These long held emotional roots run deep. While a few people are confident enough or adaptable enough to change their lives based on new facts perhaps gained through advanced education and deep thought, most of us are not. Oftentimes elaborate rationalizations develop for maintaining old beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Maybe this lone goose is not so unusual after all.

"Hey, you seen that member of the herd that waddles?"

“Hey, you seen that member of the herd that waddles?”

To end on a wistful note, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we humans could learn to accept the differences of others. What if we entered a period in our lives which was foreign to us but did so with love and compassion for others, ignoring the differences. This would give rise to overall justice for us and others in our world.