Burning Pear


Dry cold winter days on the ranch can be a real chore. It is
especially so if all of the summer, grass is gone and the winter grass is
scarce. Those cows can get a little lean and hungry. But if you live here in
central Texas, you probably have plenty of prickly pear on the ranch. That has
saved many ranchers and their livestock.

 The day was crispy
cold with a gentle north breeze. I decided I had better check on John Steel. I
drove up to his little shotgun house and that spotted dog didn’t run out to eat
my leg off. I saw John’s battered pickup parked under the live oak tree near
the yard fence, so I knew he was not far away. I beeped my horn, but got no
answer. I listened carefully and made out a roaring sound from out in the
pasture. I moseyed out that way. There John was, burning pear for his little
bunch of cows. The spotted dog came to meet me, but the cows did not look up.
They just kept eating with gusto the freshly burned pear leaves. John noticed
he had company, and he shut down his flame throwing, thorn burning, propane
pear burner. “About time for a cup of coffee,” he said.

Back at the house, John put another stick of wood in the
kitchen stove. I knew then we were in for warmed over breakfast coffee. It was
plenty strong, a bit bitter, but hot. I knew he liked it that way. I pretended
to agree. We sat around the stove in his two rawhide bottomed straight-backed
chairs, and sipped the black brew. I said, “John tell me about burning pear.”

“When I was just a kid Dad and I burned pear one winter from
November until spring grass finally came up,” he said. “We would hitch the
mules to the wagon and go over to the Howard place and get a load of pear. We’d
done burned all of ours. We cut the leaves off the plant with a long handled
ax, and loaded them on the wagon with a pitchfork. We’d bring them home, build
a brush fire, and burn all the stickers off the pear leaves and feed them to
the cows. They sure loved those green, juicy pear leaves. It took from 50 to a
hundred leaves to fill up one cow, so you can see it was a lot of work feeding
all the stock. Then we got a kerosene fired pear burner. Man was that a relief.
It was a tank that held a few gallons of fuel with a harness to carry it on
your back. We pumped it up with a tire pump to give it pressure. It had a long
pipe with a burner on the end so you could walk around a pear plant and burn
all the stickers off real easy.” We walked out to the barn and he showed me the
old kerosene pear burner hanging from a nail on the wall. “We got through that
winter with that old burner,” he said.

“What kind of a burner are you using now to get the stickers
off the pear leaves,” I asked. “A few years after the kerosene burner came out
Dad heard of a new kind.  He found it
advertised in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue, and he ordered one. Now that was
a honey. It used propane for fuel and you didn’t have to pump it up, nor carry
on you back. It had a long hose you just dragged behind you from the tank. It
rarely gave you the trouble the old kerosene burner did,” he said. We finished
that pot of black stuff he called coffee and he went back to burning pear

I talked to my cousin Barney Baker, who lives on the home
place, way up Morgan Creek in Burnet County. Said he was burning pear himself
these days. It is not cold but it sure is dry. He burns pear most of the day
and then puts out range cubes for the cows to supplement their diet. His cows
are doing well, and the market is good for the rancher. “You can borrow my
pickup, or my shot gun, but you can’t borrow my pear burner,” he said.

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