Tag Archives: Cattle

Winter At Medicine Spirit Ranch

The work changes with the seasons at Medicine Spirit Ranch. In many ways winter is the busiest time of year because we must keep the animals supplied with hay and supplemental protein.

Also we carry out tasks more suited for winter months. For example, the small evergreen juniper saplings, referred to locally as “cedar”, visually contrast better in winter from the tall brown grass. This makes it easier to find the cedar in winter and to apply a set of loppers to the task. The cedar is most unwelcome on ranches, because it demands huge amounts of water and competes with the various grasses needed for our grazing animals.

Also we repair fences during the winter. The fences become stretched from cows leaning over them and deer jumping through them. Also feral hogs have made their unwelcome appearance and will likely create still more fencing problems. Ugh!

We horses need our protein pellets every day. Now don’t be late!

We work on equipment during the winter that typically is in heavy use during the warmer parts of the year. We cut dead trees and clear drainage pipes under ranch roads. The daily cattle feeding is greater during the winter than during the remainder of the year as we keep them supplied with hay in the form of giant (900 pound) bales. We also feed the cattle range cubes on a daily basis to supplement their protein needs.

The horses on the other hand receove their protein containing feed every day year round whereas the cattle don’t during the non-winter months. Given the excitement and jousting for the range cubes by the cattle, we refer to it as “cow candy.”

So why do the horses get supplemental feed every day of the year and we don’t?

This past week we’ve been repairing a well in one of our pastures. This job proved arduous, as we had to dig up a 45-gallon container that was buried in the ground. The container stores water and moves it to a nearby water trough. We found a leek at the connection that fed into the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately after replacing the pump motor, replacing the water container and some  PVC connections,  and then reburying the tank, we sprung yet another leak. It seems the large water container sank deeper into the hole, re-breaking the PVC pipe. A second attempt at this fix hopefully has addressed the problem. We’ll see. So far, so good.

Curious how the cattle stood around the developing pond resulting from the leak and gawked at our inability to fix their water trough. I am pretty sure Number 36, a.k.a. “the Tongue” was chuckling. Cheeky cow! She is my nemesis.

We continue to vaccinate calves for black leg (a bacterial infection) and periodically take a load of yearlings to market. Six calves have been born within the last week or so. They are so cute at this age. See their pics below.

We never seem run out of tasks on the ranch despite the season. Nevertheless, I can hardly wait for Spring to arrive.

Buddy’s Retirement- April 20, 2018

Buddy as a younger dog

It was inevitable, I suppose. Retirement is part of life isn’t it, that is if we live long enough. Buddy about whom you’ve heard much lately (Buddy- The Slacker) retired from his life’s work today. His retirement from herding came suddenly or at least it surprised me.

On request Buddy declined to jump out of the bed of the pickup to help herd the mama cow about which I recently wrote (A Sad Day On The Ranch). This job in the past would have been an easy one for Buddy, merely moving one cow through a couple of gates and into an adjoining pasture where the remainder of the herd grazed.

When I called to Buddy, he merely stared back at me. Has he suddenly gone deaf? What’s wrong with that dog!

After a few moments of reflection on the statue-like, immobile Buddy, I thought perhaps his bad back might be hurting him or else he had judged after twelve and a half years he’d accomplished his limit of herding cattle. Nevertheless, pushing one cow through a couple of gates and into another pasture has previously hardly been work for our Buddy who has lived to herd. But I know twelve and a half years makes for an old dog, especially for a Border collie.

He’s been the best herder I’ve ever had on the ranch. His exploits are legion, as I tried to indicate in the Slacker piece, his first herding experience. Nevertheless, lately he has been less invested and less enthusiastic about this effort. I maintain that in his place today he urged the younger Bella to help me. Surprisingly Bella did a fairly good job but not up to the standards set earlier by Buddy.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Buddy has lately spent more time napping on one of his four beds (yes, can you believe it- four beds) that are scattered strategically around our house. He never has to take more than a few steps to find a doggie bed. If a bed is not immediately available, a low chair will do just fine.

While he still enjoys riding around in the pickup, he now seems anxious to return to the house and resume his doggie slumbers.

Perhaps his life’s arc from superb and indefatigable herding dog to his current “just don’t bother me” attitude is an expected part of normal aging thatis sure to affect us all. I’ll admit since retiring, I enjoy naps more.

Years ago when I asked my grandmother Hutton when she was quite elderly what it was like to get old, she replied, “Tom, you just slow up.” This observation must be as true for Border collies as it is for humans.

I hope Buddy reneges on his retirement for at least a brief period of time. What gives me hope is that Francisco, our ranch hand of seventy-five years old has retired at least five times. Each time after his announced retirement he came back to the ranch after having become thoroughly bored with watching TV and missing “his” ranch.

The animals, the beauty of nature, and the opportunity to make the ranch better proves for Francisco an incredibly strong draw. Might Buddy one day feel a spurt of new resolve along with a strong desire to herd- just one more cow? Time will tell.

By the way, what does one give a Border collie as a retirement gift? He has no use for a watch. Your thoughts?

Buddy, the retiree, taking one of his frequent naps

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”



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.

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?

A Backward Glance–Part 2 by Paul Hayes, Guest Blogger

This is Part 2 of the piece written by Paul Hayes. Paul, like me, always had a hankering to be a cowboy but first had to have a paying job to afford to do so. For Paul it was a successful career as a land man for Marathon Oil and for me, a career in Neurology. It was worth waiting for!– Tom Hutton

Two Longhorn cows and calf

Two Longhorn cows and calf

Paul Hayes wrote the following:


While we didn’t have any horses or cows ourselves, we lived on a dirt road at the edge of a very small town. So farm animals were all around me. In fact, the family of one of my best buddies, Bobby White (I think he was named after a quail), had a farm just down the road, and they had lots of animals. One day, while playin’ at Bobby’s place, he came up with an idea for the ages. He thought it would be a really great idea if we went and roped a cow. “heck, yes” I exclaimed with enthusiasm. Did I mention that I was the brainy one in my group of friends?

We dashed out to their barn. Remember, if it weren’t worth runnin’ to, then it weren’t worth doin’. Bobby climbed up on a horse stall and pulled a rather stiff rope down from a rusty ol’ nail on the barn wall. He jumped down into a cloud of dust and we proceeded to the pasture.

Now, bein’ the smart boys that we were, we picked a young cow are our first target. Bobby had growed up on the family farm and actually knew how to rope. Not livin’ on a farm myself, the only rope that I had knowed was fer jumpin’. We walked as close as we could get to our victim, and Bobby took his stance. He swung that rope around a few times and throwed it in the direction of that cow. Much to my amazement, and Bobby’s too I suspect, the lasso went over that cows head. As the cow jumped, the rope tightened. Bobby screamed for me to help and I grabbed aholt of that rope. We dug our heels in as far as we could and pulled with all the might that two boys of six years of age could muster. After a few harrowin’ seconds, the cow calmed herself and all seemed quiet.

But, the really fun part started with my next question. “Well, that was excitin’. Now what do we do?” After a few brief seconds of thought, which, as luck would have it, was not sufficient time to come up with a reasonable plan, Bobby said that, while one of us holds the rope, the other will crawl under the cow. Yep, you heard me right. Again, what six-year-old boy wouldn’t want to have that on his resume. Since there were only two of us, and since Bobby was already holdin’ on to the rope, he said I could go first. With not nearly the hesitancy of my first horse ride, I willfully got down on the ground next to the small cow. As I approached, I saw the rope tighten and I saw Bobby dig in for whatever might come. Wantin’ a good view of the excitement, I got on my back and began scootin’ along the ground under the cow. I am directly under the cow when I discovered that a six-year-old boy does not possess the strength to hold even a small cow in place. The cow jumped, kicked like a mule and then ran out into the pasture – rope draggin’ behind. I, on the other hand, laid breathless on the ground with hoof prints on the portion of my white Sears tee shirt that covered the center of my chest.

I had followed up my horse lesson with an equally successful lesson about cows. I am not certain, but I may have been rethinkin’ this cowboy thang at this juncture.


Paul Dennis Harris was a boy who lived across the pasture from my house. He was a year older’n me so I, quite naturally, believed that everythang he said was as gospel as Sunday preachin’. I would come to learn that there are two voices that we hear in our lives, one is the voice of God, the other is the voice of Paul Dennis Harris. On this particular day, as I peered out the kitchen winder, I could see Paul Dennis over in the pasture playin’ with somethin’. I just couldn’t see what it was. That situation required a prompt investigation. As I approached, Paul Dennis displayed a pistol that he told me his grandpa said he could play with. I later doubted that the ol’ man, not havin’ been afflicted with brain damage to the best of my knowledge, knew anythang about the pistol caper. At six years of age, I knew nuthin’ ‘bout guns, includin’ the fact that they could lift a boy’s skull from his head if pointed in the wrong direction.

I have no idea what the caliber of the gun was. But it was heavy, and it was real. Paul Dennis suggested that we shoot a target, so he proceeded to set a coke bottle on top of a fence post. While I knew that that coke bottle was worth three cents down at the local grocery store, I was willin’ to forego that income for a new experience. Bein’ the nice guy that he was, he even said that I could shoot first.

Are you hearin’ a repeatin’ theme in these stories?

Well, by this time, bravery was my middle name, and I happily accepted the offer. He loaded the revolver with six bullets – five more, as it would turn out, than I would need to complete the experience. He then handed me the gun, stood back and covered his ears.

I’m six years old. I have no idea how to use a gun. Ne’ertheless, I took the pistol in my hand and held it up to my cheek just below my right eye. Takin’ good aim at that bottle, I slowly pulled the trigger. I am not certain what hurt worse, the powder burn on my cheek, the damage to my eardrums or the butt beatin’ I got from my dad when he found out. I immediately dropped the gun to the ground and ran home cryin’ like a cat in a rockin’ chair factory.

I learnt a hard lesson that day from the likes of Paul Dennis Harris. Age, as it turns out, does not necessarily equate to wisdom.


Though I survived the age of six, my parents decided to move to Dallas before I could learn any more lessons about life in a small country town. I became a city boy whose only exposure to cowboys from that point on were the ones who played football on Sundays. Now, at the age of 56, I find myself living back in the country. However, it is safe to say that I will live my life as a cowboy vicariously through you.

Thanks for your contribution to my longevity.


Update to “Generosity Begins At Home”

Some time ago I wrote about a mama cow adopting a calf despite having her own hungry offspring. I had never before seen this occur and have learned it is very unusual behavior. Thought an update to this curiosity was needed.

The mama cow, bless her generous heart and sizable milk bag, continued to nurse both calves until they were yearlings. The calves grew into big, strong steers. I was proud when time came last week to take them to the auction barn. (Yes, I know what you may be thinking. Taking the grown calves to the auction barn is only a preliminary for 3-6 months at a feedlot and then a slaughterhouse. This is true enough. Yet, we need to remember how most of us enjoy a well marbled steak or a juicy burger. The animals are raised just for this reason not being, in any way, an endangered species.)

In any event I admired the two good looking steers when I dropped them off at the auction house. I also said a silent thank you that day to the giving mama cow. The result of this transaction; however, turned out to be surprising.

The first pleasant surprise was that I obtained the best price ever for the two steers. Several days later a second surprise occurred. A package arrived in the mail. In it was a a really fancy knife sharpener with a small plaque on it, notifying me that I had won the “top steers award.”

Imagine that: a calf that would have ended up a runt after losing his mama had instead been adopted by a generous mama cow. The two steers became the top steers at an auction last week of somewhere around 1000 head of beef. So as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

Hutton’s Calves Take A Trip To Town–And Then Back Again

This morning with the help of my ranch hand, Francisco, and my long suffering wife, Trudy,  I loaded seven calves into the cattle trailer. They were big enough and ready to head off. I might have known something was awry, when the loading turned out to be easy, really too easy. It went without a single  calf bolting or hitch in the procedure of any kind. It was almost as if the calves hurried into the trailer in order to take their morning ride.

On arriving at the auction barn in Fredericksburg, I immediately became suspicious when no line of trucks with trailers existed waiting to unload their stock. It was then that I spotted a small but all too informative sign posted in the window of the auction house- “No sales on July 2 or 3”.

Silly me, I had failed to remember the auction barn closes on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. It had never occurred to me that it would close for sales during the week of the 4th of July. Isn’t anyone going to eat steaks, hamburgers, or beef ribs, I fumed. Regrettably I was forced to point the nose of “the Old Goat”, my gas guzzling V-10 1999 Dodge pickup, homeward for the return trip.

I don’t think “cow” very well, but I would like to believe the calves enjoyed their outing. I know the ride along dogs enjoyed it, as Bella and Jack gave me numerous wet and raspy licks both on the way into town and on the way back to the ranch. With my face thoroughly washed and abraded, I unloaded the calves into the front pasture. They trundled out, looked blankly around, then kicked up their heels, and ran straight  in the direction of the herd. They appeared no worse for wear and had experienced a remarkably cool ride into town for a July morning in Texas.

My error today was certainly not my most painful as a rancher. For instance it does not compare to when I was pitched from a horse and broke my arm and jammed my neck, or in a second instance when i blew out a disc in my back trying to man-haul a stump out of the creek bed after a flood (in my defense, my tractor was broken and what else could I do?).

Now those two mistakes hurt! Mind you, I never in 30 years got injured swinging a reflex hammer at someone’s knee as a neurologist. Since retiring and becoming a rancher I have broken two bones, torn ligaments, blown out my back, and worst of all suffered numerous instances of major loss of face.

It’s also not the most foolish ranching mistake I have committed. Several candidates for this dishonor readily come to mind. Expanding my herd prior to the onset of a major drought might come in at most expensive. I never would have guessed that hay could get that expensive. Personally, I rather like the time when I determined to paint one of my pipe cattle guards red and black in honor of my undergraduate Alma Mater, Texas Tech University. I thought it would look nice and thought just maybe the cows would enjoy it too.

Trudy, despite otherwise having good sense and having utterly failed to talk me out of this folly, got down on her hands and knees and helped me complete the goofy project. I do recall her muttering under her breath most of the time it took to complete. Trudy, I think this would fall under the clause in the marriage contract, “For Better Or Worse”. You’ve got to admit, our marriage hasn’t been dull!

Looking back on it, I’ve made plenty of ranching mistakes. Perhaps it’s inevitable having been a “city boy” most of my life and having lived rural ranch life only for the last 12 years. But that’s the fun of it. I have learned more from my all too frequent mistakes than from the ranch books I have read or the Ranch Day Programs I have attended. It has been fun. Besides as Trudy and I say to one another if taking life too seriously, “No one is going to die from this.” In my previous life, I certainly could never say that.