Category Archives: freemartin

2016: A Backward Glance

As we close out 2016, it’s worth spending some time for a backward glance. For Medicine Spirit Ranch and this blog, it’s been a great year. Today is a milestone for Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch, as this is our 100th post!! Since the inception of the blog, each year has shown increased readership. I thank you for your interest and your terrific responses. Please keep them coming.

On occasion we’ve  written about important and meaningful topics such as personal aspects of the civil rights struggles. In fact our most read blog piece has been Reflections on Greenville, Texas: The Blackest Land and the Whitest People. More frequently we’ve dealt with  ranch and retirement topics, for example the birth of cattle twins on our ranch, the bottle feeding of the rejected twin, a series of posts about Norman during his calf development and adolescence, and the birth of a freemartin.

Betty giving Norman his evening bottle while Cecil drinks his own libation

Betty giving Norman his evening bottle while Cecil enjoys his own libation

We’ve written about stocking our tanks with fish and the discovery that I was unwittingly  chumming for the hunting benefit of a Great Blue Heron! Also pictures of various landscapes and sunsets have appeared from time to time with the hope of sharing our little piece of heaven.

Looking off the hill of Medicine Spirit Ranch

Looking off the hill of Medicine Spirit Ranch

A waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch, November 2016

A waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch, November 2016

We’ve had great friends and our wonderful family spend time this year on the ranch including Betty and Cecil Selness from Minneapolis, La Nelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock, Judy Wilkins from Lubbock, Katrina Jansky and son Chance, from San Marcos, Will and Claire Plunket from Austin, Dave and Amy Riley and their family from Dripping Springs, Roger and Marilyn Johnson from Horse Shoe Bay, Greg and Nancy Hocevar soon to be of Fredericksburg, along with lots of family including grandchildren Ramsey and Graham, and Katie’s fiance, Kevin, and his wonderful family from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

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

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands. You didn’t think the room and board was without strings did you?


It has also been a great year for magnificent Texas sunsets, for breaking the drought with a bumper crop of hay, for the Super Moon rising over our barn in spectacular fashion, for fat cattle, for two lazy horses, for three always ready-to-travel dogs, and too numerous to count white tailed deer and other welcome animals e.g. painted buntings along with unwelcome ones e.g. skunks and porcupines that take considerable exception to our dogs.

A Texas sunset

A Texas sunset

Hay is (mostly) in the Barn

Hay is in the Barn

Also my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales was published this year. What a treat not only to see it in print, but also to experience many gratifying reviews. I’ve had a blast speaking at libraries, book clubs, service clubs especially Rotary and Lion’s Clubs, and private book events. I welcome speaking invitations. My thanks to all of you who have helped me in this never ending crusade to have the book appear, succeed, and obtain visibility.Carrying the Black Bag book

Of one thing, I am certain. We’re blessed to enjoy the love of family and friends, and the ambience of Medicine Spirit Ranch, and the readership of this blog.

The dogs and reflecting on 2016 and pondering what might come about in 2017

The dogs and I reflecting on 2016 and pondering what might come about in 2017

Norman’s Emancipation- So Why Does It Feel Like Rejection?

Of late I’ve written extensively about Norman, our bottle fed calf who was rejected by his biological mother in favor of his heifer, freemartin twin.

Mama Trudy and Norman

Mama Trudy and Norman

I feel my story may have reached its denouement. It’s inevitable, I suppose, but surprising by how soon it happened. After two months of twice daily bottle feedings, to Trudy’s and my surprise, Norman has begun to rebuff our feeding efforts. His action has been not so much stiff-arming us but rather a polite demurral. He still saunters over and allows us to scratch his neck and ears and he continues to gaze at us with his dark eyes with long, curly eyelashes that Madonna would kill for. Nevertheless, he has been refusing to take hold of the nipple despite our best cajoling. This has proved surprising and concerning to us as prior bottle fed calves have continued to take a bottle for many more months.

When the herd realizes we’d not come to offer them range cubes (think cow candy), they soon return to mowing the pasture and graze away. Norman, observing their departure, has been turning away from us, responding to the strong social draw of the herd.

One evening several days after once again being rebuffed by Norman, Trudy and I stood in the pasture holding our still full bottles of milk, feeling full of rejection. We both worried about Norman lacking sufficient nutrition to sustain himself.

It was then we observed a nearby cow who had been keeping a keen eye on Norman and us. Nearby was her white calf of four or five months of age. We soon saw her calf meander up to her and latch onto a full udder for his evening feeding. Shortly after this occurred came a  more surprising sneak attack occurred from Norman. He approached between mama cow’s hind legs and began to feed earnestly but on a less impressive hind teat.

The reader needs to understand how rare it is for a mama cow to accept a calf for feeding that is not her own. Nevertheless, there it was before our eyes- two calves, one her own and one adopted, suckling away.

Trudy turned to me with an expression one part surprise and one part relief. Our bottle calf was no more. Over the last week we’ve observed Norman feeding from this cow several times. While he only merits “hind tit”, he chooses his lowly feeding station over our carefully mixed and precisely warmed calf formula.

Adoptive mother, her white calf, and Norman sneaking milk. Crown attached courtesy of photoshop

Adoptive mother, her white calf, and Norman sneaking milk. Crown attached courtesy of Trudy and Photoshop

To be sure, Trudy and I welcome the extra hour in the morning and in the evening and not having to prepare the formula, seek out Norman, feed him his gallon of milk, and cleaning the calf bottles. Nevertheless, we are left with an “empty nest” feeling like when our children left home to go off to college. It’s only natural of course that Norman become a full member of the herd and attends fully to his cattle herd and less to his humans. Our heads get it. But our hearts feel pangs of rejection.

Whether or not this is the end of his feedings or he will require only occasional supplementation will be determined. When Norman is bigger, I might just carrying range cubes in my pocket and slip him an occasional treats. He still feels special.


Norman Part III: Our bull calf and his freemartin twin sister

Mama Trudy and Norman

Mama Trudy and baby Norman

Recently I’ve written about a set of twins born at our ranch. The mother cow unfortunately promptly rejected the bull calf in favor of the heifer calf such that Trudy and I soon became surrogate parents to the bull calf. We have been bottle feeding him twice a day. Well at least we don’t have to throw him over our shoulders and burp him!

While cattle twins are rare, We’ve learned the concept of freemartinism in cattle. This occurs when a male calf (Norman in our case) and his female twin are born. The heifer usually has an abnormal reproductive tract. Her abnormality occurs due to the presence of male hormones in the bloodstream in utero that prevents normal development of the ovaries and/or other aspects of her reproductive tract.

The freemartin becomes an infertile cow with masculinized behavior (someone else will have to share exactly what this behavior looks like as I haven’t noticed any unusual spitting or scratching (thank you Ann Richards for the quote). A freemartin occasionally occurs in sheep, goats, and pigs.

The Roman writer Varro described freemartins and referred to them as “taura”. John Hunter, an 18th century physician, determined a freemartin always has a male twin. Talk about creating sibling grudges!

The question arises whether this condition might occur in human twins as this has been claimed in folklore. This belief was perpetuated for generations and was mentioned in the early writings of Bede. No good support exist for freemartins in human twins to the best of my knowledge. If others know differently please share your thoughts and level of support for this.

Norman and a big friend

Norman and a big friend


Am pleased to share with you that Norman is growing and appears healthy. Another mama cow has allowed Norman periodically to nurse. Likewise his sister does well and continues to enjoy the mothering offered her by her biological mother. As for Norman he spends time in the nursery with the other calves during the day, scampers toward Trudy and me when we approach him, and like his ears and neck scratched.

Norman’s twin (the freemartin) is destined to become a beef calf rather than for breeding purposes. If I don’t watch it, Norman may, if Trudy has her way, end up as a big backyard pet.