Tag Archives: Ranching

Tailwalking Buddy

Not that many years ago, a Border collie puppy named Buddy was born beneath a row of slacks that hung within my closet.

Alissa, our daughter in law, holding Buddy as a puppy

This puppy along with two other older Border collies would one day drive off a pack of marauding coyotes that, under cover of darkness, had stolen up behind Buddy’s human companions.This was the puppy who eventually would grow into an adept ranch dog capable of breaking up fights between huge bulls and of skillfully moving a cattle herd across our ranch.

A young Buddy

This was the patient dog who spent six weeks at my side while I, not so patiently, waited out a painful back injury. This was the puppy that would eventually grow into a wise old dog and who has now entered his dotage. In short, Buddy has now grown old.

Six months ago Buddy passed his 14th birthday. While his eyesight and hearing are not as keen as they once were, his major physical limitation relates to his mobility. You see, his rear end tends to give away, causing him to unceremoniously plop down. His collapse is usually followed by his soulful eyes pleading for a bit of help to regain his four footed stance. Trudy or I will then help him to his feet and allow him to get underway. We have found that by holding onto his tail and slightly elevating it, he is far more capable of walking without falling. This maneuver seems to aid Buddy’s balance and walking. We refer to this as tailwalking Buddy.

For a dog as independent-minded as a Border collie, it is surprising that Buddy accepts our tailwalking, but Buddy has a way of accepting gracefully his limitations that accompany his aging. I never thought acceptance would become one of his traits along with his intelligence, herding ability, and loyalty to his human companions.

Buddy also must now wear a belly band and incontinence pad. We suspect Buddy’s leakage also relates to his old spinal cord injury.

Notice the belly band around Buddy

Our method proves effective but requires us to buy large amounts of incontinence products at the grocery store and order his male belly belts online. Together this combination of items has saved spotting around the house. Again Buddy accepts the belly belt and pad without seeming to question. When he enters the house he waits patiently just inside the door for Trudy or me to fasten into place his padded doggie belt. (I worry as to what the store clerks must think about Trudy buying such large quantities of male incontinence pads! Fredericksburg is, after all, a fairly small town.)

Trudy and I have made other modifications around the house including elevating Buddy’s dog bowl to make it easier for him to eat, placing runners in our tiled bathroom to facilitate Buddy making it to his elevated dog bowl without falling down, and lifting Buddy into and out of the padded bed of my pickup.

We are unclear as to why Buddy shows progressive walking impairment. We do know that years ago Buddy suffered a spinal cord injury from a ruptured disc that briefly left him with paralyzed hind limbs. We suspect this is the likely cause, worsening now with his advancing age. With patience and rehab Buddy following his original injury gained a normal gait although never achieving full strength in his hind legs. Border collies also may develop hip dysplasia that could also be a contributing factor.

Trudy tailwalking Buddy

 

At times Buddy whimpers, yelps, and pants, all symptoms that suggest he is in pain. Learning this our veterinarian prescribed pain pills. These pills have helped. Nevertheless, nighttime is the worst time for Buddy. Trudy and I have spent many nights letting Buddy in and out of the house, requiring us to tailwalk him up and down the stairs to the yard, laying on the floor attempting to comfort him (he sleeps under the bed), and providing middle of the night snacks. Our list of interventions is short but repeatable. It is also exhausting.

A recent addition of a second pain medicine has provided further benefit. Nevertheless, on a daily basis we seem to see an overall worsening of Buddy’s mobility. His decline inevitably brings up the wracking question as to how long we should proceed with our Buddy routines in light of Buddy’s  discomfort. If Buddy stopped eating, lost his zeal to travel in the pickup, or no longer showed his love of life, the decision would become much easier. For now Trudy and I will help our aging Buddy dog to travel around the house and yard by holding his tail and dutifully trailing along behind him. Metaphorically speaking, is not this what Buddy has always done for us?

I’m here for you my human companions

Tom and Buddy

 

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.

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!

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

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?

“Mama Duck-Me” Guest Blog by Trudy Hutton

How did I become Mama Duck? Earlier this summer we and our neighbors decided to raise some Rouen ducks for our pond (known in Texas as a “stock tank” or just “tank”.) We have raised ducks before—five or six years ago– but they have all disappeared through old age or predators and we decided we would enjoy them again.

The ducks are ordered from a breeder and come via mail at one day old. The post office calls first thing in the morning…and I mean first thing, usually about 6:00 a.m….that there is a cheeping box of birds to be picked up AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

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Our ducks, six cheeping handsful of down, lived for the first week in the laundry room in a large cardboard box. They had a heat lamp to keep them warm and we lined the box with newspaper to keep them semi-clean They are messy, smelly little things; the box needed to be cleaned daily, lined with fresh newspaper and food and water dishes refilled. Ducks like water. They really saw their water dish as a small swimming pool. Every morning about 4:30 they would begin cheeping for fresh water and food. Tom was the one who heard these early morning protestations and got up to fulfill their requests. Enough of that. The second week we moved them out to the shop and into an old poultry cage we had before used for our birds. Out of earshot and smell range (not to mention they were quickly outgrowing the box) we slept a little better.

We built a nice round chicken wire pen inside the fenced garden and filled a small wading pool for their swimming enjoyment.

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DSC_0167Although they were growing fast, we had to build “duck ramps” for them to be able to get into the water and we placed a rock “island” in the middle of the pool for them to rest on.

Every morning we gathered the ducks into a cardboard box and transported them to the outdoor pen. In the evening we rounded up the ducklings, after chasing them around the outdoor pen and putting them in the box to transport back to the poultry cage. (Making the outdoor pen round was not a good idea – no corners to catch them in.) They are very fast little devils! I would “quack, quack” to reassure them that it was Mama Duck, and hopefully convince them to follow me.

After the second week the ducks had outgrown the small wading pool, so we added a larger one and took down the chicken wire pen. They now have full roaming rights to the entire garden area.

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By the end of that week, they had the morning and evening routine down. We no longer have to transport them in a box between the garden and their night-time pen. Open the door to the shop and the cage door in the morning and I could lead the ducks out to the garden, quacking as we went. Tom says I flapped my wings, too, but I deny it.

 

After a few days I didn’t even have to do much as far as leading or herding. Now when we open the door to the poultry pen, out they march, in a close group, on their own.

About sundown we reverse the routine, usually following behind the ducks, as they seem to know it’s time for bed. They head straight into the shop and the evening safety of the poultry pen. A few nights ago, I was a bit late going out to bed them down and found they had already taken themselves inside for the night!

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As the ducks grow we may have to find a bigger swimming pool. But before too much longer they will be big enough to move down to the tank and be on their own. Rouen ducks are identical in coloring to Mallards, but unlike Mallards they cannot fly more than 20 or 30 yards. By the time they grow enough to move to the tank, they will be able to swim into the middle of the water for safety from predators.

I still “quack, quack” when I feed them daily in hopes that when they do make the move to the tank, it will only take a few “quacks” to call them up to feed. We’ll see how the transition to the tank goes. The last time we had ducks ready to move to the tank, I walked down to the tank, quacking as I went, with 6 mostly grown ducks behind me. However, I barely got back to the house when we heard them quacking at the back gate. They had not only followed me down to the tank, but evidentially thought Mama Duck wanted them to follow her home. Time will tell about these little quackers..

Like Walking On Toast

A saying exists among Texas Hill Country ranchers that we live in a permanent drought only interrupted by periodic flash floods. Well if so, then bring on the flash floods! To no surprise for those in the region, we are suffering one of the worst droughts of all time. The 2011 drought that actually began during the last quarter of 2010 remains severe and shows no sign of abating. Many ranchers by now have sold off their herds.  In will take a couple of growing seasons for the grass to reestablish enough to support grazing. Others have maintained their cattle and hold onto them with the tenacity of a koala to a Eucalyptus tree.

Recently I heard an experienced rancher describe what it’s like when he walks across his parched pasture as, “like walking on toast.” As bad as this is, it’s even worse when walking silently over only dessicated dirt.

I made the decision two years ago to thin my cattle herd but to keep most. I had a herd of really good, young heifers and like a crazed gambler in Las Vegas, I felt my luck was sure to change any day. Two years later, I fear my doubling down was a sucker’s bet. The drought requires feeding hay–hay hard to impossible to grow and expensive to buy. The choice becomes really how one loses money; sell your herd and buy it back high, or keep your herd and buy costly hay. It’s a Hobsen’s choice to be sure.

Needless to say, I obsessively fret over my not very enticing options. I pride myself on being a good steward of the land, but when push comes to shove, I will look after my livestock first. My real choice at this point is whether to sell off the herd and wait for the land to recover, or fight on with the grass I have bought and stored in the barn.

We are now into September, around these parts the second heaviest rain month of the year. Nevertheless, the average September rainfall is a bit below 2.5 inches, hardly enough to impact this fierce drought. With wanting eyes, we ranchers look to the Gulf for a tropical storm to head our direction and rain heavily down upon us. The earlier predicted robust hurricane season has already flopped. Now our chances for a tropical storm diminish by the day like a chocolate cake at a convention of sumo wrestlers. But Hill Country denizens remain steadfastly hopeful, perhaps how the Comanche desperately hoped for a miracle to turn back the relentless western expansion of the white man.DSC_1196

Periodic thunderstorms head our way. To date they are like a stripteaser and only tempt us. Mostly the rains that come are limited and not the long, drenching rains that are much needed to replenish our tanks, streams, and  wells.

As I longingly search the sky, I despair not knowing what to do with my herd. I only know that I need to make a decision in the near future. Will my attachment for the herd prevail, or will my desire for good stewardship for the land win out- I know not. I am sad and conflicted. Tune in…