Friday, July 15, 2022

Farewell to the cow doctor

John Blackshoe made a good suggestion.


When I checked cows this morning everything was looking good until I saw a steer calf that didn't look right. He was laying up in the early sunshine, as were about half the calves. Unlike the rest of the calves, this one looked droopy. He wasn't holding his ears up, and something about his posture said "I'm sick." I drove over for a closer look and stepped out to see if he'd get up or not. He got up, but instead of moving off he just stood there panting. Then he started coughing. He looked very sick.

Yep, early BRD, or Bovine Respiratory Disease. Us young fellers used to call it summer pneumonia or dust pneumonia. It's fairly common in calves and if left untreated can be quickly fatal. The key is catching it early and treating it quickly with the appropriate antibiotic. I texted the owner and he came right out and darted the calf with 5cc of Draxxin.

This evening the calf is still a little droopy but he looked more alert, less miserable, was chewing his cud, and wasn't coughing. Looking good so far.

I've often been asked how it's possible to tell when a cow or calf is sick. I mean, they're all out there in the pasture and they all look pretty much the same. But when you've looked at cattle day-in and day-out for years, you find that sick ones simply stand out. The cues may be subtle, but they're quite clear.


So the Cowboy Poet Baxter Black, who was a hell of a fine cow doctor before all that, has "rode his old horse on home." Here's the obit submitted by his family to the Amarillo Globe-News.

On June 10, 2022 Baxter Ashby Black, large animal veterinarian, cowboy poet and philosopher, husband, father and papa rode his old horse on home. Just before sunrise on that day, Jesus signed on one more ol’ cowboy to ride the Golden Fields across the Jordan.

The iconic cowboy poet and storyteller had humble beginnings. He was born to Robert and Teddie Black at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital just before the end of World War II. He was the first of what would eventually be four brothers: Baxter, Bob, John and Stephen. The family traveled through West Virginia, Texas and ended up in Las Cruces, New Mexico where Baxter would call home. When Baxter was 15 years old his life changed dramatically as his father, Robert, who was the youngest Dean of Agriculture at New Mexico State University, passed away unexpectedly and he became the man of the house. All while doing his part for the family, he continued to play the guitar among many other things but he always went to church on Sunday.

He made his first attempt at writing in high school where, as he would recall, “I wrote something religious I think…” His teacher’s encouragement, after marking an F the size of Texas in red on the paper, was, “Baxter, write about what you know.”

As Baxter began college he started wondering about what he would major in. His first love was agriculture, there was also, a war going on again and he didn’t want to get drafted. He did go in on more than one occasion and take his physical for the Navy. He ‘wanted to fly one of those big planes’ is what he would tell those recruiters.

His decision to apply for Veterinary School came when he realized that no matter what came about he could always ‘fix your cow’. He applied to Colorado State University. He was accepted providing that he finished a few math classes. At the end of his third year the only thing standing between he and vet school was a 58% in “triggernometry” (60% was passing). He went ‘begging’ his teacher to give him that D. The graduate teacher finally conceded as long as he vowed to “never take Calculus or Trigonometry again”. He kept that promise the rest of his life!

Veterinary school saw his jovial and entrepreneurial spirit and vigor take flight again. Baxter made and sold leather belts, brewed coffee in the mornings, cut hair, and did laundry, all for those willing to pay a few cents. He even counted ants one summer for a grad student’s research project. He also earned a few dollars playing in a band with a couple of his classmates on the weekends.

Baxter graduated from veterinary school in 1969 and eventually ended up in Idaho working as the company vet for the J. R. Simplot company. It was while out there driving around and talking to the old cowboys where his storytelling started to take root. There were no TVs and very few radios in those days so he would take his guitar and tell stories. He found that he could take the cowboys’ stories, write a poem about it, tell it back to them and they loved it. In 1980 he ended up in Denver, CO working as the troubleshooting vet for a pharmaceutical company. Baxter’s reputation as an entertainer spread. Soon the constant requests for his brand of poignant, insightful and hilarious programs allowed him to transition from part time cowboy poet to full time cowboy entertainer.

Shortly after forming the Coyote Cowboy Company, he married his wife of 39 years, Cindy Lou and became the father of Jennifer. A decade later his son Guy was born and after Jennifer graduated high school they moved down to Benson, Arizona.

Over his 40-year career, Baxter wrote about what he knew, cowboys, cowgirls, rodeo, cattle, horses and ranch life. He wrote with a flair that still captures the imaginations of everyone who reads his stories today. He spoke throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. His column was printed in over 130 newspapers and his radio program was on 150 stations through the years. He sold over 2 million copies of his books, CDs and DVDs. He was on the Johnny Carson show on several occasions and was a regular commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition for 20 years.

He lived his life guided by a simple faith in Jesus and his admonishment to, “Love God, practice forgiveness and mercy to all who offend, and to care for the least of these.” No one was a stranger to Baxter, whether you sat next to him on the airplane for thirty minutes or knew him for decades. Every person he met was a friend.

Something that Baxter would always say after getting home from one of his frequent trips seems profoundly fitting for his journey through this life. Should Jesus look at him and say, “How’d it go?” it is easy to imagine Baxter, with a beaming smile shining out from under his mustache saying, “Lord, I made ‘em laugh, and that’s all that matters.”

Baxter is survived by his wife, Cindy Lou Black; his daughter Jennifer Cubbage, husband Will, and their children William and Savannah; his son Guy Black, wife Jessica, and their children Gwendolyn and Magnolia; his two brothers, Bob and Steve and his two dogs, Solomon and Rudy.


And here, if I'm reading the story right, is his final poem.

I Know You’ll Miss this Man

By Baxter Black, DVM

The Lord spoke to the heavy hearts that stood with hats in hand
"Your sadness pains me deeply and I know you'll miss this man
But, it's true what you've been hearing, Heaven is a real place.
That's no small consolation. You should use that fact to face
The emptiness his parting left that seeps into your bones
And draw on it to ease your pain. For he is not alone.
You see, all his friends are up here and all his loved ones, too,
'Cause it wouldn't be a heaven without each one of you.
And heaven for a cowboy is just what you might expect,
It's horses that need tunin' up and heifers that need checked.
It's long rides with a purpose and a code that lights the way
And a satisfying reason to get up every day.
It's the ranch he's always dreamed of and never knew he'd find
And if you think about it, you can see it in your mind.
Him, leanin' in the saddle with his ol' hat on his head,
Contentment set upon his face like blankets on a bed.
The leather creaks a little as he shifts there in the seat.
The bit chains give a jingle when his pony switches feet.
And you somehow get the feelin' that he's sittin' on a throne
A'gazin' out on paradise just like it was his own.
I can promise you he's happy, though I know you can't pretend
You're glad he made the journey. It's too hard to comprehend.
The earthly way you look at things can never satisfy
Your lack of understanding for the answer to the 'Why?'
So, I offer this small comfort to put your grief to rest,
I only take the top hands 'cause my crew's the very best.
And I know it might seem selfish to friends and next of kin
But I needed one more cowboy and Baxter fit right in."



Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.


  1. Good work, cow docs everywhere!

    Hope you and the kids enjoy your bovine beach swim call.
    John Blackshoe

    1. That calf is still a little droopy today but he's up and grazing and headed in the right direction.
      That's a nice turn of phrase, bovine beach swim call. It's a perfect thematic fit for Naval Air Cowman. This afternoon we're having a traveling family BBQ, so that'll be fun. Tomorrow's forecast calls for 96 and sunshine so swim call for sure. Monday is predicted to hit 102.
      Thanks for the idea, John, and for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Sick animals - I liked the story of one guy who got a summer job at a chicken place during semester break. During the first day he decided he REALLY didn't like chickens - there was only one that even acted semi-civilized. The second day the boss asked him what he had noticed about chickens so he pointed out that one. The boss did a double-take, grabbed the chicken, took it out of the cage, killed it, and put the carcass in the burn barrel. He then congratulated the young man for having such a sharp eye, seeing the early onset of a disease. The boss finished by telling him he had a real future in chicken raising.

    1. That sounds about right Frank. The sick ones catch your eye.
      Thanks for sharing that and for stopping by and commenting!

  3. I knew Doc Black as a customer at our used truck lot. My late brother in law was a poet (though not in his league) and Doc Black came to his memorial service. A true gentleman.

    1. That's pretty cool, Frank! I only "knew" him through his poetry and radio/tv career. A hell of a man and we we're all blessed to have him in our world. We'll miss him, but that's okay.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!