Category Archives: ranching

Air Mailed By A Cow

While the event to be described happened sometime ago, writing about it before now proved impossible, as it was just too painful. Let me assure you that as a cattle rancher, this was not my finest moment.

The cow in question is #36 or as I refer of her as “the tongue.” She is a large Black Baldy cow with a protruding tongue problem. You see, her tongue hangs out of her mouth about eight inches and dangles to the right. Even my veterinarian had not seen a cow with a problem like this one. The vet  concluded that the tongue must work, as she is hardly malnourished.

Perhaps it was her slightly goofy appearance that gave me my false sense of security. Rather than focusing on her tongue, strikingly pendulous as it was, I should have noticed the suspicious gleam in her evil bovine eye. Surely that would have put me on guard, if I’d only been sufficiently observant.

#36- The Tongue

In truth “the tongue” had previously been a good cow. This attribute of goodness  I define as placid, a good mother to her calves, and gentle to be around. The latter criterion is the one for which I was in serious error.

My ranch hand, Juan, and I decided to vaccinate her calf in the pasture. It was several days old. We chose to do this rather than running the whole herd through the cattle chute and separate the calf from its mother. Let’s just say our plan was expedient rather than clever.

Juan who is handy with a lasso did his roping thing, and I ran merrily in with the syringe in hand and proceeded to give the calf its necessary vaccination- subcutaneously mind you, as it is less painful. Meanwhile Mama cow stood nearby seemingly showing little interest and no apparent animosity. Or so I thought. I suppose her baleful stare, in retrospect, should have tipped me off to her explosive temper.

Suddenly and just after withdrawing the syringe, I look up and Mama Cow, the tongue, is barreling toward me as fast as a 1400 pound cow can move. Seeing I am in imminent danger of becoming roadkill, I began to backpedal as fast as my aging legs would allow. The tongue then stuck her head in my plump and ample midsection and launched me high into the air, airmailing me about twenty feet away and into a pile of cattle dung and wedged against a barbed wire fence. Whether she ran over me, I honestly can’t say, as the pain resulting from the hard landing was simply too intense and distracting. Houston, we have a problem!

There I laid amid the cow patties, lying on the packed earth that was softened only with aromatic dry cow patties. Try as I might, I could not overcome the pain in my hips and shoulder sufficiently to regain my feet. I think I did glance at the cow to make sure she was no longer in full combat mode. By this time she had herded up her calf, paying me no more attention than she did a nearby rock pile.

Finally I struggled to my feet. I did this by holding onto the barbed wire fence which is not a particularly comfortable source of support. Juan by then had reached me and was in full apology mode. This was not at all necessary, as Juan had done nothing wrong, but rather it was my judgment that had been lacking.

After regaining a somewhat clearer head, I asked Juan to fetch my pickup from the barn. With effort I drug my pained body into the cab of the pickup. I slowly set out over bumpy roads for my house and called ahead to Trudy, asking, if on my arrival, she might help me out of the truck. When I reached the driveway, there Trudy stood awaiting me and wearing a concerned look on her face.

It’s at times like this when you find out if your spouse truly loves you. There I was covered in cow manure, groaning like a woman in end stage labor, bleeding from multiple scrapes, and hobbled by substantial pain. To cut to the chase, X-rays later showed no broken bones, but I had narrowed my shoulder joint and developed rotator cuff symptoms. These have improved over the last month and mostly only bothers me now if I attempt to elevate my right arm above my shoulder. My walking was limited for awhile but fortunately healing has occurred and the bruising has subsided.

Admittedly I sometimes think back to my career as a neurologist and recall that not once, not a single time, was I injured swinging a reflex hammer! Since retiring I’ve been pitched from a horse and broken my arm, blew out a disc in my back requiring surgery after man-hauling a stump from the creek, and sustained a compound fracture of a finger after being hit by a wayward golf ball. Retirement is not for sissies!

Despite my injury prone retirement, I’ve simply loved it. I only hope I can stand up to the physical wear and tear. i have determined henceforth I will run every calf through the chute, separating the calf from a potentially overprotective mama cow. This might be good in the long term to prolonging my life as a rancher.

#36 chewing her cud and even then with tongue hanging out

Also the mama cow and I have come to an understanding. I recognize she was only protecting her calf and she appears to be her old docile self. She will be sticking around the ranch. Now, if #36 will only stop sticking her tongue out at me!

 

Wrong Way Tom and Trudy

In reflecting on 2018, I’ve concluded that Trudy and I must have gone the wrong way or must have taken the wrong path in our lives. Let me explain.

At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the population of Texas lived in the rural areas and only 10% lived in the cities. By the end of the 20th century these percentages had reversed with 90% of the population of Texas living in urban areas and only 10% living in the country. This trend toward urbanization goes unchecked thus far in the 21st century.

Meanwhile Trudy and I left behind our former homes in the cities (Dallas-area, Lubbock, Houston, Minneapolis, even Moscow and London) where we had lived our entire lives. Instead we went the wrong way and adopted a rural lifestyle living in the countryside outside Fredericksburg ,Texas. Clearly we moved counter current to the usual demographics, but why.?

Moreover, we chose to live on a cattle ranch and raise cattle at a time when the cattle industry has  swooned from the greatness of earlier times when cattle allowed Texas to become a wealthy state. We certainly don’t claim the same lifestyle as the frontier ranchers in Texas who lived in fear of marauding Indians, struggled against nature using primitive tools, and made their ranch rounds via horseback rather in a pick up. No, our experiences don’t compare to the difficult frontier days that were depicted in the western movies, but that doesn’t mean our lives are without challenges as this blog has at times depicted.

Buddy and Bella: “No way is this the wrong way. This ranch life is what we were bred for.”          Photo by Ramsey

Little Jack: “Hey Pick Up Man, had you not gone the wrong way, I wouldn’t have lived out my story at Medicine Spirit Ranch”

 

And while some would argue the western myth with its exciting cattle drives and western heroes springs more from Hollywood fantasy than reality, it still fills a void, a yearning, if you will, for a simpler life of raising and moving stock, enjoying good neighbors, and experiencing a simpler, less hectic lifestyle. These are the activities we have enjoyed since moving to Medicine Spirit Ranch.

Perhaps springing from the innate narcissism common in writers, I’ve chosen to share our experiences on this blog. I’ve shared earlier stories of caring for remarkable people who developed neurological disorders, and, in so doing, shared extraordinary experiences that reveal much of what is good about human nature. These stories are in my book, Carrying The  Black Bag: A Neurologists Bedside Tales.  

Carrying the Black Bag book

available online or favorite bookstore

I am proud to say it has won several awards:

In a way writing books in the digital age also runs counter culture. Nevertheless, i can think of nothing more pleasing than sharing stories  in the hope my readers will gain a modicum of benefit from them.

I am working hard on a second book that time will tell whether it sees the light of day. I have tentatively titled it, Hitler: Prescription For Defeat. In it I’ve tried to bring my medical skills (retired though they may be) to bear on Adolf Hitler’s little known, but serious health issues. Too little attention has been devoted, in my opinion, to how his poor health impacted his leadership in World War II, inadvertently affected the great battles, and assisted the Allies in defeating Nazi Germany. Hopefully 2019 will see me finish the book and move forward toward publication. I’ll soon the manuscript to several wonderful folks willing to serve as my beta readers/ Any encouragement you might offer would be appreciated, or else any advice to move onto other subjects.

Looking forward to 2019, “wrong way Tom and Trudy” will continue to live our rural lifestyle. We’ll continue to enjoy our “wrong way” lifestyle” as well. Also Tom will continue to blog about his observations and experiences at the ranch and elsewhere. And in the meantime from Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch, I extend to you my fondest wishes for your personal successes in 2019. Happy New Year!

Dread of Drought

I peer into the northwest sky from where the elusive rain is said to come. The grass beneath my feet crunches as if walking on popcorn. The leaves on trees sag like the craggy faces of older people. Despite a  brave and collective denial of reality, an early drought has set in. The weatherman maintains hope by elevating rain predictions only at the last minute to reduce our chances.

Several years ago Central Texas suffered a drought of historical proportion. Our fields browned out, crops withered, and dust rode the winds like powder before a fan. Ranchers lost crops and failed to produce hay. Stocks of expensive hay had to be trucked in to maintain herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. Some ranchers along with their crops withered under the assault.

This year I maintain two barns full of hay, enough easily to tide me through an average winter. I am capable of one trial learning. Yesterday during one of our typically wettest months, I had to put out hay for my cows. I fear what lays ahead.

Creeks flow slowly or not at all. Stock tanks recede and algae spreads like kudzu. Bluebonnets appear slaked. Our hopeful Spring has given way to a dusty desperation.  We’ve taken to shaking rain sticks, a Caribbean superstition thought to summon rain. Why not engage in superstitions when all else has failed?

The rains may still come and rescue our land from early drought. I obsessively check weather reports. How fickle and cruel is Mother Nature. We remain hopeful as time exists for the skies to open forth with crop restoring, creek flushing, and pond filling rains. Time will tell. We wait.

 

One Day Later: It rained! Just after writing the piece above, the skies opened and half an inch of rain fell- hardly enough to break our drought but might it be the beginning of a much needed rainy season.

Already the fields have begun to green up. Amazing how fast the turnaround can be and how quickly the spirits of ranchers can improve.

World’s Shortest Roads?

As Garrison Keilor was fond of saying on Prairie Home Companion, “it’s been a slow week” at the ranch, but then most weeks blissfully are. Recently we had concrete poured in two places at Hidden Falls Ranch. One wag on seeing the results of our concrete work harrumphed, “Looks to me like you have built two of the world’s shortest roads!”

Admittedly the concrete slabs measure only 36 and 55 feet in length, much too short certainly to qualify for roads. If you look carefully though you may be able to determine that these are really low water crossings.

World’s shortest road? No, actually a new low water crossing at Hidden Falls Ranch- Photos by Ramsey Hutton

 

 

   One of the slabs is where the outflow from our spring-fed stock tank (pond to those non-Texans reading this), and the other concrete slab allows traffic to pass unhindered over Sugar Creek. These low water crossings remain treacherous though if a flash flood occurs.

Generally these areas though are dry and easy to cross. Nevertheless, during a rainy spell, both can become muddy quagmires. Previously I’ve become stuck even when driving my four-wheel drive pickup or our John Deere utility vehicle. Thank goodness for a tractor and ranch hand to extract me from the muck.

Two 12-inch aluminum pipes traverse the concrete slab at Sugar Creek. This allows the water to flow under the slab and for the dogs and me to keep our paws (feet) dry.

Hopefully our efforts will prevent getting stuck in the mud and provide improvements at this our newest addition to the Hutton ranch.

Guess What We Found On Leaving Our Ranch Recently?

The other morning Trudy and I spotted something unrecognizable on the cattle guard at the edge of our ranch. Approaching closer I could tell it was a newborn calf, actually a Longhorn/Charolais cross. The poor little heifer had all four legs stuck between the pipes of the cattle guard and was totally helpless as she lay across the pipes.

The calf a week later doing well in the pasture

One surprising thing about a Longhorn calf is how quickly they stand up as opposed to other types of calves. This little heifer apparently stood up while its mother was down pasture grazing, wandered to a nearby cattle guard, and slipped and had ts legs plunge through it.

Trudy and I jumped out of the car and working together pulled the calf’s legs out from between the bars and carried it to the nearby grass. There we stood it up and encouraged it to move down the pasture to where its mother grazed. She saw us coming and raced to her calf. When last we saw the calf, it was chowing down at the milk bar.

The proud mother with calf by her side

The proud daddy, a Charolais bull

The calf has done well ever since. Let’s just hope it has good one trial learning when it comes to why cattle guards  are there in the first place. I did notice a few days later when we vaccinated her for blackleg that she didn’t seem at all afraid of me. Might she have been appreciative or at least remember me? I’ll never know. Turned out to be a pretty good excuse, though, as to why we were running late for Sunday School.

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

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.