My life has been enshrouded by brush. I grew up in Holliday, Texas in a sea of mesquite thickets. Thorns made barefootin' and short pants outside the city limits unthinkable (only about five blocks from the water tower at the center of town).
Mesquite dominated the environment. Except for cultivated fields and some prairie dog towns, the mostly flat to rolling plains were and still are literally covered with it. The prairie dog towns are gone now, and farmers are becoming less inclined to try to eke out a living when up against fuel costs and a land where it sometimes rains and it sometimes doesn’t. The mesquite will be here to offer shade to the last coyote and the last cockroach that are left.
Tough? Mesquite wrote the book. While we can admire their survival mechanisms, its kind of hard to say anything good about them. Mesquite beans are readily consumed by horses and cattle, but they get deposited in a pat of fertilizer, facilitating the spread of the plant.
Further, the beans have been the death of many a horse: they will occasionally consume enough of the beans to impact their digestive tract. Also, under the correct conditions cattle and goats that eat mesquite beans can suffer the inability to swallow and can actually starve to death.
Russian Roulette is the name of the game when cattle, goats or horses are put out in heavy mesquite-bean infested pasture without some alternate foodstuff.
Brush raises Cain with livestock management. Many old-timers relied on columns of vultures to find where a heifer lost her calf; the impenetrable brush makes it difficult to look after cattle.
My very first job was helping my grandpa during fall calving. We calved in the fall because screwworms would infest newborn’s umbilical cords prior to frost. Finding newborn calves hidden by their moms in the brush on warm fall days was very frustrating and did a lot to get me to thinking about becoming a veterinarian.
My last job before veterinary college was with an oil man in the late 70’s (The Last Boom). He would buy old mesquite-infested farms and have them root-plowed by large bulldozers. My job was to line up a troop of illegal aliens and march across these fields, picking up stumps and branches as we went, stacking and burning them. The next step was to plow the fields several times and plant to wheat. Costs in flat and ruined tires was huge, as was repairs on tractors and plows. That said, after a few years, the thorns would rot, all remaining stumps were pulled up, and summer plowing would take care of the seedling re-growth problem. I’ll bet such an undertaking now would be cost prohibitive.
The one thing the mesquite had which wasn’t against us was the fact that mesquite is a legume and no nitrogen fertilizer was needed the first few years. This is one of the few ways mesquite can be removed from a pasture but it is always there, waiting in the fence rows and waste places. It waits for a long time.
McDonald writes from his clinic in Henrietta, Texas.