Sunday, May 18, 2003 Morgan Shady RV & Camping Resort 6th street @ the river Junction, Texas. $20 per-night 50amp full hookup. Nice park in an old growth pecan orchard on the banks of the South Llano River.
Last night Joyce and I stayed at the Junction, Texas Twist off Pro-Rodeo dance until long after midnight. Yeah, that is the one that George Strait did not make a surprise appearance at. Oh well maybe next time. We still set the alarm clock for 7:00 so we could get up and head to Sonora, Texas 68 miles west of here. Mother has kept contact with a college friend (since the early 40s) that owns a large ranch south of Sonora. We are going to visit her today. I do not know who is more excited me or Mom. The drive on I-10 is a piece of cake, set the cruise control on 78 and cruise. The farther we head west the dryer and higher the land becomes. Yucca become a common roadside flower and shrub in this area. We arrive at the ranch around 10:00am. Mother got reacquainted with her friend, Sandie, while Joyce and I enjoyed her yard. The ranch is smack dab in the middle of "nowhere". The yard is full of live oak trees that are home to a large variety of birds. Virtually all of the birds are nesting and are not birds that we see in Florida. A variety of orioles and tanagers had nests in the oak trees. Five or six pair of Western Kingbirds were nesting in the trees also. A family of cactus wren had set up housekeeping in a huge nest enveloping the tip end of one huge branch. Their raucous song rattled the air. Barn swallows were busy tending nests of young under the eves of the house and car port. Doves had several make-shift nests in the oak grove as well. What a menagerie and all wild.
We spotted a good number of feral cats around the house. They were stalking birds in the oak trees. Sandie informed us that they keep the rattlesnakes away from the house. She likes to keep around 8 of the critters around for snake control. Now that is a novel use for an otherwise useless cat!
The birds are attracted to abundant shade and water. The ranch is comprised of nearly 6,000 acres (they refer to it as how many sections) of range land. They lease and manage livestock and wildlife on about that much more. When I say they I mean my Mother's 80 year old friend, Sandie, and her 40 year old daughter Maggie. Don't laugh these two are the real deal. Their men couldn't handle it and ran for the city and an easier life if you get my drift.
Maggie who has a home on an adjacent hill about a mile away arrived for lunch along with Courtney, a friend from San Angelo a town about an hour north of Sonora. Maggie's son and a college friend arrived a short time later. A day in their life is pure unadulterated excitement. Her son and his friend had been out last night on "varmint patrol". I thought at first they were pulling my leg. They weren't. The ranch has over 450 adult goats plus all the young (kids). Many animals prey on both the young and adult goats. What they were out looking for and shooting last night was coyotes, bob cat, and raccoons in addition to a possible mountain lion. It seems all of these predators prey on young goats. In addition they also shot some jack rabbits. Why jack rabbits? Because vultures also prey on young goats. During this time of the year they shoot jack rabbits leaving the carcass so vultures will feed on them instead of the young goats. Vultures are a protected species with a heavy fine for shooting one. Now you know why they shoot jack rabbits instead of vultures.
They do their "varmint-hunting" from an old pickup truck with the doors removed. It is a vehicle that teen age boys back east would go wild driving, especially at night with a huge Q-beam spotlight looking for "varmints" to shoot.
After an unbelievable ranch lunch the ranch manager, Maggie and her friend, Courtney took Joyce and me for a tour of the ranch in the back seat of Courtney's huge F-350 truck. Joyce and I were along for the ride while Maggie "checked the water supply". At first I was suspicious of exactly why we were checking water. The first mile or so was so treacherous I thought sure that they were just trying to scare the "beejeebies" out of some city slickers. That was not the case! Checking the "water-supply" is just not something someone from Florida thinks much about. However, it is something these folks are SERIOUS about. Without water, life out here quickly ceases. There is no watering hole where natural water just bubbles from the ground. The only water out here comes from windmills! If the windmill needs grease, if the leathers need replacing, if anything is broken someone has to fix it and fix it fast. We drove over 20-miles this afternoon as we checked these watering holes. Two of the five had problems. They have to check the watering system as much as 3-times a week. In addition to the goats and cattle the ranch was home to over 1,500 white tail deer. These had to have water as well as the livestock. The deer and livestock are also provided with protein supplements and mineral blocks in addition to the water.
I got a kick out of Courtney, our 25 year old female chauffeur driving/punishing her giant F-350 crew cab on caliche ruts only a big wheel, jacked up, 4-wheel drive vehicle with a half crazed, liquored up, testosterone saturated teen age boy back east would attempt. She not only navigated over them, some of the more treacherous places were attacked with gusto. One hill had a road/trail so treacherous neither thought it possible to navigate going up so they circled the hill climbing it from the other side and came down that "treacherous" hill nose first. I thought we were going to slide down it the grade was so brutal. The ruts were so deep even they discussed bottoming out but we were reassured when Courtney assured everyone the truck was equipped with an oil pan shield. I loved it! It doesn't get any better.
One source of income for the ranch is hunting leases. A controlled number of hunters pay $1,500 per-gun per-year for hunting privileges. That entitles them to one trophy buck, a set number of mature male deer and another allotment of does. Someone from the University advises them of the number of deer that need to be harvested every year. The advice is done only after an annual count of the deer population. Again, I thought they were pulling my leg. Count deer, 1,500 of them, yea! Right! I am not too bright but I don't have stupid tattooed on my forehead! On second thought I might. It seems that a team of them go out one night and using spotlights count the deer in each pasture. They actually do count the deer. My mind is still having trouble comprehending actually visually seeing and counting over 1,500 deer in one night on one ranch. Can your mind handle it? I only saw one deer on our drive today. Maggie told me that the deer were in the cool shade under the big oak trees down in the draws. She said it would be unusual to spot even one in the heat of the day. I do not remember Maggie discussing how they regulated the harvest of wild turkey but I am certain that they harvest these also.
It was a good thing we did the water check because two of the windmills had malfunctions. We also found a goat with its head hung in the fence. Maggie got out of the truck and straddled it like she would mount a saddle bronc. She deftly turned then twisted his head until his horns became untangled. With a couple of claps of her hands to send the dust and goat flying and another climb over the fence Maggie was back in the truck ready for the next spot of trouble. It was nothing but an ordinary day for Maggie, a pretty, petite woman, complete with Stetson hat and steel grey eyes that can see things most men can't. Speaking of "doing things most men can't" it reminds me of the Brooks and Dunn hit song with the catchy ditty "I can hammer and paint and do things most men can't" well Maggie can "ride and rope and do things most cowboys can't".
Maggie has 17 horses she uses to work the ranch. She purchases, breaks, trains and sells horses as a sideline. In addition to the horses she has 10 or 12 kelpies while Courtney has two blue heeler dogs. Maggie is the dog training lady in these parts. If you are not familiar with these dogs they are registered dogs originally from Australia. Goats and cattle are hard to roundup in this country because they run around and hide under the mesquite and cedar trees. Livestock scatter like a covey of quail in this cover when the rancher tries to work them. The answer to this problem is a team of dogs. These dogs are bigger and much more muscular than the small sheep dogs you see on TV responding to hand signals and a whistle. Those little dogs work well on sheep but a goat will run into the thick brush and lie down ignoring the little barking dog. The rancher will have to dismount, crawl into the brush, drag the goat out, tie it up, throw the 60 pound critter on his horse and carry it to the corral. As you can imagine this is not an acceptable roundup method if you intend to move hundreds of goats from one pasture to another. Kelpies weigh around 70 pounds and resemble small sharp nosed rotweilers. They are all muscle. When the goat decides to lie down and hide in the bushes these bad boys do more than bark if you get my drift. Like the sheep dog they live to work livestock. They will even move a rank 2,000 pound bull in any direction needed. Maggie said that the working instinct is so strong that one of her dogs literally delivered puppies on the floor of the area where they were shearing angora sheep. Working livestock is first nature, motherhood is second. One dog even ate two of her new born pups when locked in a pen and not allowed to work so she could deliver her pups. When Maggie realized what was happening the dog was released to keep working the livestock. The dog had 12 puppies 10 survived (she ate the other two). Now that is a dog that wants to work livestock!
Maggie and her dogs have a special job in early June. It seems a rancher with over 1,000 goats is unable to round them up in the thick brush on his ranch. It is time for the rancher to take those goats to market. Several attempts to round them up have failed, the rancher contacted Maggie as a last resort. He had heard about Maggie and her kelpies. I would love to watch that show! Prey tell, what could be more exciting than riding a horse behind Maggie and Courtney as they and the dogs round up those 1,000 goats in heavy brush for that rancher? I have so many things I want to do yet so little time.
Maggie has invited us to return to the ranch when they are rounding up and sheering her angora goats the week of 5,6 & 7 June. I just may try and work that in. Watching that operation would be almost as exciting as watching a roundup. Maggie assures me that the dogs get plenty of action during the shearing process where the goats are driven into an area where a team of 6 shearers is waiting.
What a day. These are wonderful people out here. Their ranches did not have electricity until the mid 1950s. They still don't watch TV. There is no time. Besides there are no TV stations. Of course they could use a satellite dish, but out here there are always chores to do and "varmint-patrols" that are much more entertaining than a talking head.
Until next time remember how good life is.
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