Life Lessons from Baxter Black

As we promised, here is the next Baxter Black blog in our series. Baxter is a wordsmith, no doubt, and he also offers lots of incredible life lessons. He even went so far as to write a book about it! (Find that book here.) Enjoy these life lessons from Mr. Black and maybe try to put some of them into action soon!


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Sometimes you’ve got to glitz and glam them (to keep ‘em hooked until you can deliver the punch line)!

When Baxter gets on stage he wants to make sure everyone knows he’s the program. A friend named Mary Davis from Dodge City would make him a shirt every year. A Roy Rogers-type shirt. He said about performances, “So I’m walking in and I look like a clown. If they like you, it doesn’t make any difference.” Now he did mention it’s most likely not admiring stares he receives, but more curiosity. But curiosity holds the audience until he can start performing. And then there is nothing but appreciation and entertainment.

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If life crashes and burns, you just get back up.

Life has a way of taking you to places you never imagined you’d go, both good and bad. Baxter instilled upon us that the most important part is to get back up. Don’t sit in the ashes, smoldering. Pick yourself up, dust off your boots (or sandals or whatever footwear you might prefer) and get on with life. There isn’t a whole lot of time to sit around and pout.

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As a young man, Baxter worked on a large feed yard. His new boss walked into his converted office (previously a storage room) two days after he started working at previously mentioned feed yard and handed him a manila folder. It was the rations (feed mixture cattle eat). Baxter had plenty of experience from his time spent at other feed yards, but this had always been a specialist job at those other jobs. This new boss didn’t bother to ask if he’d even taken a class in nutrition, which he had not. He just assumed he could do it. Using this confidence (false or not) to his advantage, Baxter got it done!  Point of this story? Lesson #2 from his “Lessons From A Desperado Poet” book, “You will be amazed at how capable people think you are if they don’t know you well.  Don’t waste that advantage.”

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How to make decisions? Do it the way you want and see what happens. Even if you’re wrong! The previously mentioned boss taught Baxter not to fear making decisions.

When given the opportunity to decide, Baxter says you should do it. Obviously, use your best judgment and do your research but make that decision. Without the chance to make decisions, you won’t have the opportunity to learn.

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Baxter told us a story about a ranch he went to help work some cows in Utah. He was staying at a house about a mile up this big mountain from where the ranch was keeping their cows. He left in his vet truck to head down to the working area one morning and was about a half mile away from the ranch headquarters on the plain. It was a spectacular morning. As Baxter said, “One you could just steal.” From his point of view he can see everything down below. The cowboys were bringing the cows into the working area. The herd looked like a backwards tear drop. It was a beautiful sight. It was so quiet and peaceful Baxter could hear the cowboys hollering at the cows to move them to the corral gate. Well, as he was watching, the point of the tear drop seemed to hit the gate and the cows splattered back!  Baxter said he could hear them a mile away yelling, mooing, some colorful language and over it all, “Git outta the gate you no good sofa ditches I’ma gunnin’ 4 yo shoes a musta linka booda nina tens!”

He said it inspired him to write a poem, one of his first, leanin’ on the hood of his vet truck.  Later that morning when they took a break from preg-testing, he read the poem to the cowboys.  They all laughed and said, “Yea, I know a guy had a dog like that!”

He discovered right there, that he could pick on cowboys, sheep herders, veterinarians, horse people, farmers, and all the wonderful characters that make up his world because…he is part of it.  He’s been there!

He explains that it is the truth in humor that makes it funny…that’s the reason there are no science fiction jokes!

And a bonus from our friend, Baxter, the previously mentioned poem. This poem is part of his column, On the Edge of Common Sense.

THE COWBOY AND HIS DOG
by Baxter Black, DVM

There’s a scene that is really pictorial
That’s been here since time immemorial
The cowboy out riding, his dog right beside him
Somehow it’s almost historical.

They come in all colors and sizes
From dingos all full of surprises
Blue-eyed scene stealers and Queensland blue heelers
And collies that win lots of prizes.

He responds to your love and affection
And waits on his master’s direction
You say, “Put’em in!” and watch with a grin
While he obeys your command to perfection.

And just when you start to go braggin’
On that cow eatin’ wonder, you’re draggin’
The dog you admire, will pee on a tire
Or go lick his nuts in the wagon!

There’s nothin’ that makes me mad quicker
Than a dog in the wrong baliwicker,
You can’t find your niche, you son of a gun!
Go git in the pickup, pot licker!

www.baxterblack.com

Ask a Rancher: Federal Grazing Permits

Have you ever heard of federal grazing permits? Here in Arizona, these are an integral part of most ranching operations. Jeremy D. Krones of the Diablo Trust sat down with two ranchers to gain a better understanding for federal grazing permits and shared the findings with us on the Diablo Trust blog. We are resharing it here as it contains valuable content and learnings. Enjoy!


ASK A RANCHER: HOW ARE GRAZING PERMIT NUMBERS ON FEDERAL LAND CALCULATED?
FROM: ANONYMOUS

Bob Prosser from the Bar T Bar and Gary Hase, District Rangeland Management Staff for the Flagstaff Ranger District (and longtime Diablo Trust friend), both helped answer the question, “How are grazing permit numbers on federal land calculated and monitored?”

Of the roughly 500,000 acres that comprise the Bar T Bar and Flying M ranches, nearly half are public lands held in trust for the American public by the US Forest Service.

A BRIEF HISTORY

The USFS was founded in 1905, under President Theodore Roosevelt. Coconino National Forest, our local forest, was created not long after by consolidating other, smaller forests.

Both ranches existed in one way or another before Coconino National Forest, but the Prossers and the Metzgers must now follow Forest Service rules and regulations to continue grazing their cattle on the public land.

“Grazing has occurred on the DT lands since the mid-1800s,” said Bob. The Hash Knife Cattle Company grazed much of the Diablo Trust land area in the late 1870s, alongside homesteaders and pioneers who had claims under the Homestead Act of 1862.

However, due to the lack of water and the small size of homesteads (the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916 allowed new ranching homesteads to be enlarged to 640 acres), most settlers reneged on their title loans to the government.

Bob explained, “It was very common for them to run livestock on non-homesteaded lands (government land) to earn a meager existence. During this time homesteads were failing and bootlegging was the common means of revenue.”

Grazing permits were developed in our region around 1919, to bring structure to the use of the open, public lands of northern Arizona.

Maintaining “commensurate private land” and control of the waters are prerequisites to obtaining a grazing permit. The rights to graze, fence, and manage the waters on a defined area of land can be sold and transferred, as long as the Terms and Conditions of the permit are met by the owner. Permits are renewed every ten years.

“Many of the homesteads applied for and got grazing permits. Some homesteaders sold out to neighboring ranchers when they gave up trying to make a living or were caught bootlegging. These small early permits from Mormon Lake to Red Hill were the start of Flying M and Bar T Bar Ranches today,” Bob said.

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Chavez Pass Camp. Typical Hashknife line camp on the timbered portion of their range, western division, near beautiful Chavez Pass. (Aztec Collection)

WHAT A PERMIT DOES

“There are two important categories when it comes to discussing livestock numbers: permitted numbers and authorized numbers,” explained Gary.

Permitted numbers are the maximum number of AUMs (animal units per month) the grazing permit allows on the established allotment.

Permitted livestock numbers on an allotment are usually established during the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1969) process and are based on an analysis of historical livestock use, forage production and utilization data, and vegetation condition and trend information. The forage and habitat needs of wildlife and the necessary vegetative cover to protect and enhance soil and watershed properties are also key considerations when establishing permitted livestock numbers.

Authorized numbers are the AUMs the Forest Service authorities actually allow to graze on the allotment each year.

“We meet with permittees each year to determine what livestock numbers will be authorized on the allotment that year given the current and predicted resource conditions. [The number] cannot exceed permitted numbers,” wrote Gary. “We also develop the Annual Operating Instructions (AOI) for the upcoming grazing season during this meeting. The AOI contains instructions for the grazing permittee with regards to authorized livestock numbers and period of use, pasture use dates, forage utilization levels, structural range improvement constructions and maintenance, etc.”

After the meeting, permittees apply for the livestock numbers. The Forest Service reviews, modifies (if necessary), and then approves the application, and sends a bill to the ranch based on the current year’s grazing fee. Once the bill has been paid, the livestock numbers and the grazing period are authorized. The Forest Service allotments of both the Flying M and Bar T Bar are on their “summer country,” so the grazing period is usually June 01 to October 31.

The actual number of livestock on the allotment is largely based on trust between the ranchers and the Forest Service officials. Gary says that, “in the ‘old’ days, FS range folks used to count livestock on and off the allotments; [that’s] simply not the case anymore.”

The Forest Service does have the authority to require the permittee to gather their cattle to double-check numbers, or to require numbered ear tags, but Gary has only had to do that once in his entire career.

Gary said that it’s pretty easy to tell if the herd is significantly larger – or smaller – than it should be.

“It’s not just about livestock numbers,” Gary also said. The grazing period includes the season of use, and individual pastures use periods. Anyone can easily monitor when the herd is on or off a pasture or allotment.

Bob agreed with Gary, saying that the ranches are accountable for the numbers and density they have on their permit. He explained that if either ranch sees a problem one year through their monitoring, they will take that issue into account when deciding on a plan in the next year.

Both ranches monitor their lands regularly. Most Diablo Trusters know about the Forage Resource Study Group (FRSG), which monitors over two dozen sites on the ranches triannually, but FRSG is currently limited to just state and private land.

Much like FRSG and IMfoS (Integrated Monitoring for Sustainability, Diablo Trust’s long-term community and landscape-scale survey project with Northern Arizona University), the monitoring that the Bar T Bar and Flying M do on their Forest permits is collaborative.

The Bar T Bar and Flying M survey their Forest permits using a NEPA’ed monitoring protocol (“to NEPA” is the action of putting a program, like a monitoring study, through the process of review outlined in the 1969 Act).

The utilization surveys performed throughout the grazing period by the ranches and the USFS work to ensure permit and AOI compliance, and monitor resource conditions and forage utilization levels.

Allotment and leases can get more complicated, but at the basic level, this is what happens behind the scenes when you see cattle, sheep, goats, or any other livestock on Federal Land.

BORN ON A RANCH: THE FIRST DAY

This is part of an on-going series by Jeremy D. Krones for the Diablo Trust. It is done in an effort to educate readers about the life of a calf born on a ranch in northern Arizona. We will continue to repost the blogs, but you should take some time to check out the Diablo Trust blog for more great content.

SUNDAY, FEB 25

This morning was chilly, as most February mornings are on the range.

It hasn’t been the best winter we’ve seen, but with the new year came our first snow, and at least we aren’t in a total drought.

The cows are doing well, even those that didn’t get pregnant during the too-dry summer on the mountain. Unfortunately, they’ll probably be auctioned off, but that’s how it is on a modern ranch. We follow the Lasater Philosophy: selection, selection, selection. If a cow doesn’t take, she’s out of the herd. She might go on to live on another ranch, or become part of the marketplace, providing meat and dozens of other products for everyday use.

But we’ve still got a good number of healthy, fertile, and pregnant cows in our herd, so the future looks bright.

It snowed yesterday, adding about 40/100s of an inch to the eight inches we’ve accumulated thus far. Again, not the greatest, but good enough.

Cows like to birth (or ‘calve’) with the low pressure, so with the storm we expected a few new calves on the ground this morning. It helped that we fed the mamas last night, too. Feeding late in the day helps warm up the rumen, and that encourages the birth.

One of our cowboys, Jim, lives out at the calving cell, in a rustic cabin. It’s not high society living, but it’s not a hovel, either. It’s just fine for a single man living there for a couple months, with the important task of caring for the cows during calving season.

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A cow checks on her newborn calf on the Flying M Ranch February 2017 (Photo by Sheila Carlson)

At 5AM he sent us a text that one of our favorite cows, Zelda (aka #52), was about to give birth.

After about 45 minutes, he sent us a picture.

It really only takes 15 to 20 minutes from the time the water breaks to the calf on the ground, but Jim knows what to look for in a cow who’s ready to drop: she gets agitated, tries to go off on her own. A good way to tell if she’s ready to give birth is when her tail is kinked up to the side.

From there it’s a waiting game.

When she’s ready to go into labor, she’ll lie down on the ground.

If Jim had seen the water break and then nothing really happening in the next 10 minutes, he’d have gone out to help Zelda, strapping her in to a tight chute, feeling inside of her to determine the calf’s orientation, and trying to get the calf’s hooves out around its snout.

But fortunately, for us, Zelda, and the calf, it was a smooth birth – far more common than what most people think. Zelda is 4 years old, which means that this is her third ‘rodeo,’ and that usually means smooth sailing.

Little 52 was born, and Zelda turned around to ‘talk’ to her baby, and lick him clean.

Zelda’s attention to the little bull calf helps him wake up, breathe, and get moving – instincts are much stronger in cows (and pretty much all animals) than in humans.

The bull calf, once on its wobbly legs, hobbled over to his mother’s udder to nurse. If a calf –any baby mammal – doesn’t get colostrum, or the first milk, in the first couple of hours, their immune system can be really compromised.

Fortunately for us, Zelda’s a pro and her calves inherit that trait right quick.

After the calf gets his fill, Zelda licks him down some more.

Jim has been watching from the fence this whole time, making sure Zelda and the calf are doing well. Now that they’re both moving and nothing’s awry, the cowboy gently moves them to a larger part of the corral and turns his attention to some of the other mothers who haven’t calved yet.

We’ll check back in with Zelda and her baby bull next month!

Baxter Black: The Man, The Myth, The Witty

The Arizona Beef Council is excited to present to you a blog series about the one and only Baxter Black. Baxter is a celebrity in his own right, but those of us here in Arizona consider him a state treasure and are proud to say he chose this piece of the southwest to make his home. Many thanks are owed to his beautiful wife, Cindy, for dragging him back to the best state in the Union. While we realize our writing will leave much to be desired in the wake of the true poet’s work, we hope you enjoy reading anyways.


In a house tucked in the hills of the outskirts of Benson, lives a man, or might we say “legend,” and his wife. Here they peddle books of poems written by this man to places near and far. Guests are welcome with open arms and are given a great opportunity to hear prose in real time while talking about the past, present, and future. Upon stepping out the front door of their ranch-style home, you are greeted by an impressive wall constructed of many different types and styles of stone. These stones, bricks, and even a concrete Texas (which was accidentally placed upside down in the wall) make an impressive sight and are made even more significant when talking with Baxter about each individual piece’s origin.

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These stones, bricks, and the concrete Texas are all mementos from Baxter’s travels over the years.

In case you don’t know who Baxter Black is (we won’t judge too hard), let us explain. Baxter is a cowboy poet who has performed for cattlemen, cattlewomen, dairymen, ranchers, cowboys, cowgirls, and even made a few appearances on the Johnny Carson show. But he’s not just any cowboy poet. He’s a cowboy poet who has made a living entertaining people with his witty poems based on real-life situations, mostly from personal experience. Some of our favorites, and we would venture to say classics, include The Vegetarian’s Nightmare, The Oyster, along with his continuing column seen in many publications across the country properly titled “On the Edge of Common Sense.”

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Baxter performing The Vegetarian’s Nightmare on the Johnny Carson Show.

But Baxter didn’t start off his professional career as the cowboy on stage dressed in hand-embroidered western shirts. He comes with a history, just like most successful people. His started out with work on a feed yard, went to veterinarian school and then, as life has a way of doing, turned him on his head and pushed him in another direction. He shared with us his meaning behind the saying “down to no keys,” when life has taken everything from you to the point where you end up with no keys: nowhere to call your own and nothing to drive. But, in true Baxter style, he didn’t let this setback stop him.

He continued on and ended up managing the veterinarian work for a large feed yard. During his time at the feed yard, he began speaking and entertaining people with his wit and poems. One of the biggest blessings in his life was ending up in the same place as his wife. She was playing the fiddle in the band at the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association Annual Convention and he noticed. The rest really is history!

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In true Baxter style, he keeps life fun!

One of the many things we learned from Baxter on our visit was his philosophy on shooting arrows. You can’t do something unless you keep asking and doing and that’s exactly what Baxter did. A fun fact about Baxter is that he was featured on NPR for 20-years! NPR wasn’t looking for someone like Baxter, but he made himself known and kept reminding them that he might have something else to offer. Finally, when Yellowstone was burning up in ’84, they took notice. No one on NPR was reporting on this huge fire and Baxter told them they should be. He wrote a poem about it, sent it to the station and then they called him. They kept calling him after that asking for more, so he gave it to them. When asked why it worked, Baxter says, “I was the oddity. That’s why it worked.”

Now that you have some history on this guy (or character?), get ready for some serious life advice from this wise man in next week’s Arizona Beef Blog post.