Category Archives: Ranch animals

A Very Mooo-ry Christmas

From all the critters, stock, and folks at Medicine Spirit Ranch, we wish you wonderful holidays.

hutton-longhorn-1

Happy Thanksgiving Belatedly

Wished to extend our Thanksgiving wishes from Medicine Spirit Ranch to readers of my blog and FB page. Given the recent death of my mother, Adele Hutton, my thoughts of late have been with her, thus this late posting. A few other views from Medicine Spirit Ranch:

Who are those strange straw people driving the Thanksgiving-decorated tractor?

Who are those strange straw people driving the Thanksgiving-decorated tractor?

Curly and the "girls" send their Thanksgiving best wishes

Curly and the “girls” send their Thanksgiving best wishes

Loose Livestock

The questionable county road sign on our ranch

The questionable county road sign on our ranch

The road sign above stands on the corner of our ranch. When first she spotted it, Trudy, my wife, became bothered, maintaining the county was demeaning the morals of our cattle. Now grant you, our bull is hardly monogamous nor will our cows necessarily shun the attention of an interloping bull, but Trudy claimed  no reason existed to impugn the morals of the Hutton’s cattle. Whether or not this was tongue-in-cheek or not, I’m not completely certain. She’s like that sometimes.

Quite possibly the sign referred to the unfenced ranch on the other side of the gate where, at times, drivers encounter livestock standing in the middle of the road. Just sayin’ this is a possibility, dear wife. The county commissioners might not be demeaning the morals of our herd at all.

What do you think?

Sometimes It Is Just Better To Go Along With The Herd

Several days ago I spotted a parade of animals in the Texas Hill Country that caused me a classic double-take. I was so shocked I stopped the pickup and took a picture. The parade of animals consisted of a lead Llama and a long string of Boer goats (some of which are seen in the picture). Marching along in the line and among the goats was also a large gray goose. A goose?  Look closely at the picture and you will see a Llama leading Boer goats. In between the goats just to the right of the small tree waddles a  gray goose. I wish I could have gotten closer picture but look closely, it is really there.

llama-and-duck-herd1

I am at a loss to explain why this lone goose decided to join the goat herd. Was it displaced from its own flock and suffering extreme loneliness? Did the goose have problems with its own identity? Or perhaps since the Llama protects the goats from coyotes and other predators, did the goose simply feel more secure in this goat herd than off on its own.

Animals never fail to surprise me. Would love to hear your speculations for this strange, mixed herd. Perhaps at times it is simply better to just go with the flow and join the herd, any herd.

 

The Urge To Blog

Why are some compelled to write blogs? My own desire grew after assuming a new  identity in retirement, that of a newly minted rancher. The novelty of it intrigued me. Being a “city boy,” nearly everything including raising livestock, operating ranch equipment, mending fences, and building barns held a strong fascination.cropped-header-option-1.jpg

The thought occurred if I enjoyed learning about and living a rural and retired lifestyle, then perhaps others would like to read about it too. This interest eventually led me to begin blogging about my writing process and finally to aspects of my book. Admittedly, I also needed to decompress from my busy former career as a clinical and research neurologist and thought others might enjoy reading tidbits resulting from my inevitable backward glance at my life.

While still a young blog, I consider Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch  to have been successful. Its  popularity supports my original premise that others might enjoy reading about this subject matter. I very much appreciate receiving comments from readers and learning from them. The only experience better  is having friends and family visit the ranch, especially those who “get it.”

Two Longhorn cows and calf

Two Longhorn cows and calf

Certainly not everyone who visits our ranch leaves with an appreciation for the land and for the animals in a way like Trudy and I do. That’s okay. Some would rather sit on the back porch and work their smart phones than absorb the tranquility and develop new ranch experiences.

Nevertheless, some who visit throw themselves into ranch life. A recent visit to the ranch by good friends LaNelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas were two cases in point. Incidentally, both La Nelle and Madeline have been beta readers for many of my writing efforts and have fully supported my efforts to market my book, Carrying The Black Bag.

La Nelle and Madeline herding 'em up

La Nelle and Madeline herding ’em up

La Nelle, Madeline, Trudy, and I recently worked calves. This consisted of vaccinating for blackleg and ear tagging them. Both visiting ladies threw themselves into the effort, helping and enjoying the novel experience.  Both also managed to avoid being stepped on or pooped on. This was an accomplishment. Between swims in the pool they also tended the vegetable garden and hiked the steep green hills of our ranch. Both ladies are extremely intelligent and mindful such that our conversations on the back porch were for me especially pleasing.

Vaccinating and Ear Tagging with La Nelle, Madeline, and Luke

Vaccinating and Ear Tagging with La Nelle, Madeline, and Luke, the neighbor’s grandson

I could see excitement in their eyes as they became engrossed in their experiences that were so different from their usual lives in Lubbock. They sensed the tranquility of a Texas sunset from atop a hill while sipping a glass of chilled wine. These “Sundowners” have become a regular feature of our ranch life.

The dogs and I enjoying a "Sundowner"

The dogs and I enjoying a “Sundowner”

Years ago at my retirement party my brother-in-law presented a large number of T-shirts on which was written “Tom’s Ranch Hand.” Paul Plunket in his humorous way predicted I would put friends and family to work on the ranch and possibly even avoid the need to hire any help. In this he was correct only to a degree.

T-shirt read Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline on left and La Nelle on right with their T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands- Hutton Ranch

I had two T-shirts left over from my retirement party. At the conclusion of La Nelle and Madeline’s  visit, I presented a T-shirt to each. Both appreciated the gift, small tokens though they were. This further convinced me of the wonderment that exists at Medicine Spirit Ranch set in these green hills of central Texas. It is a wonderment for at least some. Perhaps that is the way it always is. Different experiences resonate for different folks. I hope for future visitors to our ranch and to describe in writing the experiences for those unable to experience it directly.

A Texas sunset

A Texas sunset

Buddy- The Slacker: Part III

This final part of Buddy the Slacker concludes when our nine month old Border collie, Buddy, races to our rescue.  Trudy and I can do nothing but stand perplexed as our bull has engaged in a ferocious battle with another bull. I hope you enjoy this concluding episode of this true story and look forward to your comments as to how to improve the piece.

 

Buddy is on the right

Buddy on the right

Appalled, Trudy and I scrambled for safety behind a large live oak tree. Once there we cautiously peered around its trunk and observed the ongoing bull fight. I felt powerless to intervene, having lost all hope of driving our bull homeward.
I felt dejected. These trying circumstances had outstripped my capacity for retrieving our bull and now I worried that our bull would end up gored by the opposing Shorthorn bull. Just on reaching my emotional low point, a flicker of movement caught my eye. I swiveled my head and caught sight of a black and white form flashing by me. Recognition soon set in. Trudy and I gasped. Young Buddy, ignoring shouted entreaties, raced headlong toward the bullfight.
“God, he’s going to be killed,” yelled Trudy, her cry rising above the din of the mêlée. Trudy slumped down next to the tree; fearful to even watch, believing our half grown dog was about to be killed.
The bulls, focusing on their fight, paid little heed to the young, yapping dog. With the bulls locked in a head-to-head clutch, Buddy circled behind our Charolais bull. Relinquishing his attempts to intimidate with his high-pitched barking, Buddy instead gave our bull’s tail a vicious chomp. Startled by the attack and from an unanticipated direction, our white bull momentarily broke off the fight and took a step backward and looked behind him.
Our neophyte herder, sensing his opportunity, then circled around and sped between the then 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. By bloodying him, Buddy had startled him and backed him off. Feigning a direct charge,Buddy then was able to turn him slightly away from where the Charolais stood. To my amazement, our young Border collie then began to arc back and forth behind the Shorthorn and, at the same time, gather the remainder of the cattle herd and drive the whole lot of them out of the creek bed and up a nearby hill.
I whispered to Trudy, ” Can you believe what we’re seeing?”
“Is that vicious dog the same sweet puppy that licks my face in the morning?”
When apparently satisfied by the degree of separation between the two bulls, Buddy looped back down the hill. He then made a kamikaze-like assault on our Charolais, breaking it off at the last instant. This feint forced our bull to retreat several steps. Then after a series of charges, nips, and barks Buddy succeeded in turning the bull away from the Shorthorn and then ran the pale leviathan along the winding creek bottom in the direction of our ranch.
“Come on, let’s trail him,” I urged, pulling Trudy up from her sitting position.
Trudy and I scrambled from our protected site and observed what was going on from a safe distance. We saw Buddy expertly drive the Charolais along the creek bank and into a copse of trees. While lost to sight, the ripping sound of breaking limbs along with Buddy’s urgent barking marked their exact location. Soon the panicked bull emerged from the trees hurried on by our overachieving canine.

Buddy provided constant pressure, hastening the bull always forward in the direction of our ranch. The pair, bull and neophyte herder, soon passed through the broken blow out fence and back into our home pasture.
I yelled to Trudy who trotted alongside the opposite 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 palms heavenward. I wondered where within Buddy’s DNA resided such amazing abilities?

To this day, I stand in awe of the talents of Border collies.
Trudy turned toward me and waded into, and through the shallow creek. She climbed the bank and approached me, her head down. On nearing me she raised her head and flashed me a warm smile. I noticed she now moved with greater fluidity and in a more relaxed manner.
We did not know then, but never again when the bull broke out from our ranch, would we encounter difficulty returning him- thanks to Buddy. On spotting our Border collie, our wayward bull would immediately reverse course and beeline it back home— such was the respect the Charolais had gained for Buddy.
With newfound spring in my step, I headed for my pickup parked under a pecan tree near the water gap. Nearby I spotted Buddy sitting on his haunches, 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 loving, gentle squeeze. We stood hand-in-hand for several minutes, gazing upon our cattle and at the same time, admiring our collie. Soon I would need to make repairs to the blowout fence, but first I wished to savor the success of Buddy’s achievement and enjoy my wife’s change in mood.
With my idle hand I leaned down and stroked Buddy’s soft, furry head. He was panting, his pink tongue bobbing up and down like a yo-yo. His amber eyes still sparkled with excitement. Over several minutes I sensed his adrenaline rush begin to ebb. As I stroked his silky fur, he laid back his ears, turned his head, and fixed on me an expectant gaze.
The bond between man and dog is like no other between man  and animal. The empathy and understanding of a dog is known to 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 never before, and I felt appreciation for a very special animal like never 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.”
“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 realized that love, like good wine and I Love Lucy reruns, only improves with the passage of years. I felt the love especially strong that day for both my wife and for my dog.
That memorable day left me with two thoughts that still resonate to present day. 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 may arrive, when least expected. It may even charge in on four paws and have a wet nose.

THE END

Buddy- The Slacker: Part II

In Part I of this story, I discover a destroyed fence at a water gap and immediately suspect our wayward bull. I then mobilize my long suffering wife, Trudy, to help me round up our missing bull. Meanwhile our Border collie puppy remains behind in the back seat of my pickup, sleeping. The story continues:

 

My good friend and neighbor, Tom Norris along with his three young grandchildren, Trudy, Francisco, and I had chased our bull multiple times across a good chunk of our rural county. Tom’s grandchildren, careening about in his four-wheel ranch utility vehicle, had greatly enjoyed the pursuits. Tom’s grandchildren had later pleaded with him, “Grandpa, next time we’re at the ranch can we pleeeease chase the bull again?”
But in this instance “Colonel Tom,” as we were fond of calling him, and his young charges were unavailable and Francisco was off work for the weekend. The task of rounding up our wayward bull fell solely to Trudy and me.

And we had no choice but to take action, as the bull had escaped in the direction of a ranch known for its prize-winning, pure bred Angus. A white calf amid a herd of Black Angus stands out like a beacon, as with great embarrassment I had experienced once before and for which I had felt the need to apologize to my neighbor.
These bull chases had become a fretting issue for Trudy. While all marriages have disagreements, often over money, frequency of sex, or how best to raise children, our marriage had matured to the banal stage where  bull chases represented the principal challenge to our marital bliss. Okay bull, this time it’s gonna be you or me.

 Charolois Bull

Charolois Bull

Earlier I had left Buddy, our nine-month old Border collie, in the pickup with the windows 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, an immature trait I assumed, but one that imparted to him a comical appearance.

Buddy at a somewhat older age in the bed of the pickup

Buddy at a somewhat older age in the bed of the pickup

Trudy and I continued to trundle along the creek bed. Here we are busting our butts, chasing our 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! Maybe I should get rid of him at the same time that 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 skin. Trudy’s arms were scraped and her hair became disheveled with twigs attaching to her curly russet locks. The burbling creek and rustling leaves of the cottonwoods hinted at challenges that still lay ahead.
A quarter of a mile into the adjacent ranch, in an area overgrown with clinging brush and waist high native grass, we discovered the neighbor’s herd of cattle. We also discovered the location of our bull, Cool Spirit. Our peripatetic bull stood tall in the middle of a scraggly herd of mixed breed cattle, languidly licking an old, skinny cow whose bones bulged from her hide like a hastily built stork’s nest.

The old saw came to mind about how after midnight the women in the bar must get better looking, and I wondered if such a sentiment might also be true for horny bulls.
Of all the forms of love, lust seems the easiest to truly understand as lust simply trumps all logic.

Hillary Clinton once described her husband, Bill- America’s best-known philanderer, as too often thinking solely with his little head. And this was by all accounts a very intelligent man. This is not to imply the sexual urge is not a strong one. In the case of our bull, he had charged through seven-stranded barbed wire fences, accepting untold cuts to be with an apparently intoxicating, pheromone-secreting cow. Bill Clinton had also paid his public penance as a result of his irresistible dalliances.
Just then something jarred my thoughts back to reality.
“You see that big bull over there?” Trudy said, a note of urgency in her voice.
“Good Lord,” I yelled on spotting it. Apprehension shot through me like an electric current. By then the red bull with its head lowered was advancing in the direction of our Charolais. Our bull had already spotted him, and had shifted his attention from the homely target of his desire to the menacing shorthorn bull. In turn our bull lowered his white, curly topped head. The two bulls glared and snorted at each other from a distance of under thirty yards. Each weighed well over a ton apiece. My worry rocketed still higher. Oh my god, we sure ‘nuf don’t need a bullfight.
Unfortunately our approach acted like a Toreador’s red cape. Just as Trudy and I edged closer, both bulls suddenly became determined to establish their dominion over the herd. They began pawing at the ground with their huge cloven hooves, throwing sprays of brown dirt under massive, bulging bellies.
Their aggressive displays, fearful as they were to us, dissuaded neither in the slightest. Their shows soon gave way to all out combat.

The bulls, like two hot rods playing chicken ran straight toward each other but then failed to dodge. They crashed head on into each other. With their muscles rippling, the huge animals strained to drive the other into a compromised position. They continually emitted loud and fearsome sounds like preternatural beasts from Hades. Their fight by then had kicked up a thin brown cloud of dust that carried with it their rank aromas.
Their heated battle raged back and forth from bank to bank across the shallow creek bed. The bulls’ massive blows caused the very ground under my feet to shudder. Their combined bodies weighing close to 5000 pounds knocked over small trees, as if they were mere broomsticks. They clattered through the rocky creek bottoms. It was a frightening spectacle to observe.

TO BE CONTINUED

Naughty Norman

Lately most, but not all , of our ranch efforts have gone as planned. One exception resulted recently when Norman (remember the bull calf abandoned by his mother in favor of his freemartin heifer twin?) and another calf at a most inconvenient time decided to scamper away from the herd. The time had come to organize a cattle drive from our newer ranch, Hidden Falls, to Medicine Spirit Ranch where the grass was better. The bull, cows and calves seemed anxious and willing to follow Trudy in the gator that held a bag of range cubes.  Juan, our ranch hand, and I flanked and pushed then from behind.
It was only after the herd had gone through the front gate at Hidden Falls and were trundling merrily along our county road that I realized two calves were missing. After securing the herd at Medicine Spirit Ranch, the three of us returned to Hidden Falls Ranch where, lo and behold, Norman and friend frolicked, seemingly enjoying their newly found, adolescent freedom.
What followed was part cowboy and part keystone cops. We did our dead level best to drive those two now apprehensive calves out the gate and down the county road. They had realized by then that they had lost contact with their herd and likely believed the other cows still resided back at the ranch we were leaving.

Needless to say, their young bovine four legs easily outdistanced our older human ones despite our considerable effort. Multiple times we had the two calves near the entrance to Medicine Spirit Ranch only to have them bolt and backtrack into the neighboring ranch. Once we were within spitting distance of the entrance to Medicine Spirit Ranch only to have two roaring cement trucks race down the road, frightening us and scattering the calves. Trudy gave the two cement trucks who had failed to heed her signals to slow up the one finger salute as they thundered by. Ultimately exhausted and irritated to near apoplexy we drove the two calves back to Hidden Falls.
The following day with our spirits and bodies renewed we drove the entire herd of cattle back to Hidden Falls where an uncomfortable mama cow with a bulging milk sack sprinted for the two hungry calves. After chowing down at the milk bar, the calves became anxious to rejoin the herd and followed their now relieved mama in that direction. Our efforts this time to drive the herd to Medicine Spirit Ranch were accomplished without so much as a calf getting out of line.
Norman has always been a different sort of calf to be sure. After a time of great dependence on Trudy and me, he became fairly indifferent to us following his adoption by his new cow mother. Nevertheless this was not the case when I went searching for Norman on that second day. He came running up to me and sucked on my thumb and let me scratch his ears. No doubt, he was famished and had likely not enjoyed spending his first night away from the herd and alone among predators. Ah, Norman- you are a different type of calf.

Hay look at me. I am number one TWICE

Norman: “Hey look at me. I am number one TWICE”

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.