Mike Moutoux's Ranch Notes
This month I was down at the Billings Ranch south of Silver City; it’s high desert country dotted with cholla cactus, yucca stalks, bear grass and small groves of oak. The countryside down there is crossed with small draws that feed into bigger arroyos which are bordered by long ridges and small hills. It’s a great place to ride and work cattle as you often have the feeling of having the whole place to yourself. The other riders simply disappear into the folds and may not be seen for an hour or more.
Cowboys call these days “Fall Works”; they are a mix of moving cattle, sorting yearlings away from their mothers so the cow can have some relief from a 600 pound calf that still wants to nurse, vaccinating, and even branding calves that were too young to brand in the spring. When the work is a bit much for the Billings family, they get extra help from part time cowboys like myself. It’s a chance for me to see that country from atop a horse, and work side by side with the full time cowboys who have a skill set acquired over a lifetime. As always, I am proud to be part of the crew.
These were memorable days. On finding a yearling with a nose full of porcupine quills, we got it in the corrals where it was roped and two of us set about removing the quills. The animal seemed to know we were helping it as we removed about thirty of the black and white barbs. They came out easier than we expected and the whole procedure took about ten minutes. Porcupines used to be more common around here and then almost disappeared so it appears they are making a comeback. I’ve never seen one in New Mexico.
On one morning we were gathering small bunches of cattle into a larger bunch when I had a nice adventure. One of the small bunches seemed headed in the right direction but turned the wrong way up a draw so I moved to cut them off. Just as quick as we got going, the d-ring which holds the horse’s breast collar to the cinch, broke without my knowing it and that horse took off like I was spurring him for all he was worth. My hat flew off but I stayed with him and got him stopped after an exciting ride. Billy Billings had seen the whole thing, rode up and saw the collar just hanging between Trigger’s legs solving the riddle of what made the horse run the way he had.
Billy found my hat and we soon joined the others who had all the cattle together by now. Now, should I hear the phrase, “living in the moment”, I’ll think about that ride and how all my senses were focused on staying in the saddle while trying to calm that poor confused horse. To him, it must have felt like I was asking him to stop and go faster at the same time. We all get confused time to time, and there is no better place to sort things out than a high desert pasture dotted with chollas, yuccas, bear grass and scrub oak. Add an endless blue sky famed by the Burro Mountains to the West and the Cookes Range to the east and you have a mighty fine formula for seeing things clear. Sure works for me.
I’ve added some photos for you; that stunning palomino horse is Trigger---the photo taken by Tim Martin who is another skilled cowboy who obliged me my taking our portrait. The other photo includes three generations of the Billings family: Billy, Wayne, and young Carson who is on his way to being a skilled cowboy himself. His older brother, Justin, is quite a young cowboy and a dang good photographer as well. I’ve been using his photos on Facebook. When you are confused about what is important in this world, spending time with folks like the Billings will help you sort that out as well. Even if they don’t tell you it’s not hard to figure out. I’m getting it figgered, but hope to get back and learn some more.