Category Archives: ranching

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.

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

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

Buddy- The Slacker: Part I

Today I begin a three part series about Buddy, my male Border collie. I have written about him before. My story this time follows the story about Bella who acted as my reminder and is again in the vein of how our pets benefit our lives.  I think the story meanders a bit and would work better as a book chapter than as a blog post. The length alone requires it be presented serially. I would love your thoughts on this piece and how you’ve learned or benefited from your pets. I hope you enjoy my story about Buddy. Was he really a slacker?

Yours truly with Buddy as a puppy

Yours truly with Buddy as a puppy

Wire mesh panels dangled askew from a heavy steel cable. I immediately understood what had destroyed the water gap, as our bull had previously proved an excellent breakout artist and a frequent explorer of Live Oak Valley. I reluctantly grabbed for my cell phone and dialed my wife at our ranch house.
“Guess what, honey? Bull is… missing again.” I heard my voice crack, as I forced these words out, words that I knew would be unwelcome.
“Oh shit, not again?” she shouted irritably into the receiver.
I flinched under the assault. Then I heard a long exhalation followed by a pause before she said, “Be there in a few minutes.” I heard her phone click off.
Within fifteen minutes Trudy and I were again hiking the rocky creek bottom at our Fredericksburg, Texas ranch. It smelled of decaying vegetation, heady juniper, and a hint of desperation. The glare in her eye told me she was displeased at being mobilized for yet another bull chase. Trudy hesitated at the damaged blowout fence, shook her head, and pivoted toward me, her eyes flashing.
“Can’t believe the damned bull’s out again.” Her arms crossed, her lips tight. “What’s Francisco call him?” She knew full well what our ranch hand called him, but by reminding me, she’d already made her point.
“Hamburguesa,” I breathed the words in a barely audible voice, careful to avoid her gaze.
“Ah yes, hamburguesa,” she boomed. “And why, pray tell, did he call him that?”
I gave a mental shrug. Since I desperately needed her assistance and was feeling trapped, I answered civilly. “Well, Francisco grumped that next time he met our bull, he wanted him between two buns at McDonald’s.”
Trudy’s hand shot up like that of a great orator and jabbed the air emphatically as she had probably done many times in court, “Yeah, sounds good to me too and make mine a double bull burger and hold the cheese! I’m watching my calories, you know.” With this she gave an exaggerated wiggle of her hips and sucked in her stomach.

Trudy with Hay bale

Trudy with Hay bale

I bent low beneath the creek-spanning steel cable and marched resolutely into the adjacent ranch. I had a bad feeling about the venture that lay ahead.
Trudy and I trudged along the creek bank, as I furtively glanced about in search of water moccasins. I felt inwardly embarrassed by my compulsive searching for the dreaded serpents but felt unable to resist my urgings.
Growing up in Texas, I’d heard stories about poisonous snakes. As standard a fare at Boy Scout campfires as s’mores was how nests of wriggling water moccasins could boil up unexpectedly from the depths of a creek and pull a hapless person down to an agonizing death. While no real proof existed for this often-repeated tale, those of us in our Boy Scout troop remained convinced such horrible things must have truly happened.
Trudy’s pace hesitated, distracting me from my cogitations. She turned toward me. “Why is it, COW-BOY, she said with particular emphasis, “after countless breakouts, you haven’t already sold that roaming ruminant and bought a bull with instincts more akin to a homesick prairie dog?”
Ouch, I know a practiced soliloquy when I hear one. She must be seething.
To be sure I felt Trudy’s frustration as fully as she did. In the past we had scoured the hills and valleys of neighboring ranches, searching for our missing bull. We’d navigated treacherous arroyos, clomped through nearly impenetrable stands of juniper, and skittered down rocky embankments on our pained backsides. All of left us sore, scraped, frustrated, and with Trudy barely speaking.
I had also not missed her emphasis on “COW-BOY” with the unmistakable sharpness in her tone. While stinging, I was at least relieved my lawyer/wife had used it, rather than one of her more 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. Once I lay hands on you it’s the one-way trip to the auction barn for you.
Trudy opened her mouth likely to harangue me further but before she could speak, her foot slipped off a wet rock and she splashed down into the shallow creek. I heard her emit a grunt and saw her face develop a scowl worthy of Ivan the Terrible on a bad day.
I couldn’t help but smirk at her watery dilemma.
“Yikes, this water’s arctic!“
“You okay?”
She scrambled out of the chilly, spring-fed creek.
This isn’t going to be fun. Needing Trudy’s help, she needed mollifying. “Well, we may sell the big guy. His escapes are happening more frequently and he’s learned how to evade us.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED