A Sit-Down with Baxter Black Baxter Black talks about life as a cowboy poet and large animal veterinarian.
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A Sit-Down with Baxter Black

A Sit-Down with Baxter Black

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Baxter Black talks about life as a cowboy poet and large animal veterinarian.


Tucson is like a different world in comparison to the swamps of Washington, D.C., and I'm happy to see a familiar tour guide here. Long time NPR commentator Baxter Black is with us to help out this city mouse. Baxter is a cowboy poet and a former large animal veterinarian.

If you have questions for Baxter Black about life as a cowboy near the border or as a cowboy poet, or in the event that any of our large animals aren't feeling well…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. You can e-mail us: talk@npr.org. And we're also going to take questions for Baxter from our audience here in Tucson.

And Baxter Black, I have to ask you, would you serve guests food that had fallen on the floor?

Mr. BAXTER BLACK (Cowboy, Poet): If they were four-legged, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAXTER: It's the only guests I have.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Baxter Black's most recent book is "Blazin' Bloats & Cows on Fire! or It's Hard to Blowout a Holstein." And it's nice to have you with us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: How did you become a cowboy, and how did you become a cowboy poet?

Mr. BAXTER: Well, first off, bienvenidos.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAXTER: Welcome to Arizona. We're happy to have you out West.

CONAN: It's a pleasure to be here.

Mr. BAXTER: A lot of people don't know you're as young as you are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're back in that white lie category, aren't we, Baxter?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAXTER: No. When I go around the country, people say is Neal Conan really as intellectual as he sounds? Or does he wear spectacles, or is he bald?

CONAN: Guess they didn't hear the first part of the show, yeah.

Mr. BAXTER: No, they like to know what you look like. Well, he's a dapper sort of fellow. Actually, he has a beard that's - I'm sure you're dyeing it gray, aren't you?

CONAN: That's it. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAXTER: But his hair's a normal color. Red, looks like.

CONAN: Yeah, reddish hair.

Mr. BAXTER: It's dark in here, but…

CONAN: Well, and thank heavens for that.

Mr. BAXTER: Yeah. And he's articulate, as you can tell.

CONAN: Well, I have to say that, Baxter, my moustache is nothing as compared to yours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAXTER: Well, everybody has their assets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAXTER: If you can't do anything else, grow a moustache.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So that's - you have a ranch. In fact, as we were down on our way to the border yesterday afternoon…

Mr. BAXTER: Yeah.

CONAN: …we drove near the vicinity of it. And I was told, in fact, that this is going to be the next site for something on the order of 30,000 homes are going to built in that area.

Mr. BAXTER: Well, they're working on it, but as you know, the market is not real good today. And so we're trying to - actually, the bulldozers are slowing down, so.

CONAN: Mostly because you're throwing your body in front of them?

Mr. BAXTER: No. No. I'm an interloper here to Arizona, and I moved here in '97. I grew up in Las Cruces, and lived in Idaho and Colorado. But I'm like many people in this audience here. We came here to be a part of something. I grew up on the border, and you're talking about immigration, and I listened to all that. And they come right across my place to get here to go to work. So I know all about that.

CONAN: Yeah. Where did you first work as a cowboy?

Mr. BAXTER: Well, I grew up in New Mexico, and I was - remember, I'm a veterinarian, really.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. BAXTER: And I'm a cowboy, depending on who's asking me the question. And since it's you, I'll go ahead and play like.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAXTER: But I have cows and I work in the feedlots, and you do a lot of this horseback. And I still have cows and horses. And so when I go out to check my cows - around here, a lot of these people know we have mesquite and cactus, and it's not a good place for a four-wheeler. I mean, you can come up the arroyo, but you can't get out into the country very deep. And so we go on horseback, and that's how we check our cows.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And when did you start becoming a poet?

Mr. BAXTER: Well, I thought I was a songwriter. Did you?

CONAN: Yeah, I did, but I was disabused of this notion.

Mr. BAXTER: Yes. Well, I found out I wasn't, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAXTER: And just by - I guess because I was writing in verse, I turned it into a poem and I found out that there's a little magic in that.

CONAN: Uh-huh. Your poetry rhymes, does it not?

Mr. BAXTER: Well, that's odd, because by the definition of the poet laureate, if it rhymes, it's not poetry. And we have kind of an analogy here in Arizona. One of animals here is a javalina, but after you get to - you look at that, and you say my gosh, pork chops, bacon, all that stuff, but the real answer, and you will hear this by the naturalists, the javalina is not really a pig or even related to them.

However, you cannot define a javalina without using the word snout or porkish or - and poetry's sort of the same way, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: If it rhymes, it's not poetry, but that doesn't really make sense, does it, so…?

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some questions for Baxter Black from our listeners. They may do better than I'm doing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Again, the number's 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. And let's go to - there, there we are, Joe(ph). Joe is with us from Gillette, Wyoming.

Mr. BLACK: (Unintelligible).

JOE (Caller): Hello. How are you going doing out there?

Mr. BLACK: Is it you, Joe?

JOE: I'm doing good. We're still in snow up here, but…

Mr. BLACK: How are the sheep?

JOE: …you know, in another month or two.

CONAN: And did you have a question for Baxter?

JOE: Yes I did. Baxter, I have a 17-year-old daughter who's really interested in going to veterinary school. I was kind of curious: Where did you go? (Unintelligible).

Mr. BLACK: Of course. I bought this license from a guy in Iowa who (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: I went to Colorado State after I went to New Mexico State, and of course if you really wanted to go to vet school, that's a good place. Where did you say you live - Wyoming.

JOE: Wyoming.

Mr. BLACK: Right. You guys go to Nebraska or to Colorado State, but you better tell her right now she's got to do her homework.

JOE: She gets pretty good grades, but she hasn't actually got into the literal guts of anything yet.

Mr. BLACK: Well, that's less important getting into vet school as having good grades, and I can tell you that from experience.

CONAN: I'm told that in fact, veterinary studies are in some ways more difficult than medical studies, than studying to work on just one species, humans.

Mr. BLACK: Well, I was just sort of getting by, Neal. You're over-valuating my abilities to compare the two.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: I will tell you the difference, though, and this is with respect for my fellow veterinarians. There's a difference, and the real difference is there's not one horse that is more valuable than one child. So that's kind of how it works. We've got to know the same things, but the responsibility is much deeper.

CONAN: Joe, thanks very much for the call, and we wish your daughter the best of luck.

JOE: Thank you very much. Good luck. Bye.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can go now, if I can work out this system. There we go, and let's go to Greg(ph), and Greg is with us from Wild Lake in Michigan.

GREG (Caller): Wild Lake, Michigan, right.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

GREG: I got an Appaloosa that likes to eat that green timber, that's, what's that…

CONAN: Really?

GREG: Yeah, yeah. It's not good for him at all. Is there any advice I can get from Mr. Baxter?

CONAN: We first have to discuss the issue of liability for issuing veterinary advice over the radio.

Mr. BLACK: I'm exempt. I'll exempt it.

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. BLACK: Okay, we have some things down here, we have some things out West. They're made out of wire, and they're called fences.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREG: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Mr. BLACK: Okay, and Michigan will get them one of these days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: Anything else?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREG: That will have to do. All right, thank you.

CONAN: Greg, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. Were all your problems so easy to solve?

Mr. BLACK: It's just the way you look at them.

CONAN: (Unintelligible) what kind of bill would you have sent Greg?

Mr. BLACK: Didn't you get his credit card?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get back on the phones. This is Samantha(ph). Samantha's with us from Columbia City in Illinois, is that right? Indiana.

SAMANTHA (Caller): Indiana.

CONAN: There you go, if I could read the difference between an L and an N, I might have a better-paying job than this. Go ahead. Do you have a question for Baxter?

SAMANTHA: Yeah, I do. Actually, we do own cows. They're all giving birth right now, but one of the things that we've noticed over the last couple of years is there's been a big drop-off of large-animal vets, and I was wondering if you have any insight as to why we're seeing not a lot of people practicing with health care for large animals like cows and what we could do to get people more interested in it?

Mr. BLACK: These are all serious questions, and I'm a frivolous person. I will just simply tell you that there have been many changes. It's gender and generational, as well, and James Herriot days are gone. And I think what will happen in the end, in 20 years, most food-animal medicine practice will be done by ag students who take a degree in something like - they'll be like physician's assistants, and then they'll be in touch with a licensed veterinarian and knows about the bovine, but I don't see any real change right now.

CONAN: Good luck, Samantha. We appreciate the phone call.

SAMANTHA: Thank you.

CONAN: Now Baxter, you famously said that you do not have a television or a cell phone. Is that still the case?

Mr. BLACK: That's correct, and one of those questions about stealing somebody's wireless…

CONAN: Wouldn't apply to you?

Mr. BLACK: I wouldn't know how to answer the question because (unintelligible). However, we do have - in my office, we have six or eight computers, and I appreciate their value, but my job, Neal, is to think up stuff to put on those computers, right?

CONAN: That would make you a content provider.

Mr. BLACK: (Unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: As you move through this world.

Mr. BLACK: That was kind of a social lubricant word, wasn't it?

CONAN: Yeah, I thought so. I thought you would appreciate that particular remark.

Mr. BLACK: That was really good, yeah, and I had a plastic sleeve under there, and I was going to try one on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. BLACK: But I brought my own cow. She's out there in the grass.

CONAN: Fenced-in I hope.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: She's broke her lead.

CONAN: You've said of all the jobs you've done, what's been the most fun?

Mr. BLACK: Well, I wanted to go to vet school so I could be in the cow business, and I wound up becoming a poet, which is okay, too. I like entertaining, but I always have my cows and my horses and my life. You know, that's my life, and I'm able to put all this stuff together and be a part of Public Radio, that's a - you know what I do for a living? Do you have a clue?

CONAN: I figure you talk for a living.

Mr. BLACK: That's sure one of them. (Unintelligible), and I have a column…

CONAN: And how much do the cows pay for this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: Well, a lot more than the corn does.

CONAN: I suspect you're right.

Mr. BLACK: And I go around and speak to the cattlemen's associations and the veterinary groups and things like that.

CONAN: And you walk away with an honorarium?

Mr. BLACK: Well, it's a little more than that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Nice to know you charge a hefty fee.

Mr. BLACK: Oh yes, well that's how I make a living, and I have a weekly column, and I have a commercial radio program and a show on RFDTV. Have you heard of that?

CONAN: I have heard of that.

Mr. BLACK: Have you?

CONAN: Yeah, we get cable back East. Not necessarily that, but you know…

Mr. BLACK: Well, it has the polka hour, "Big Joe's Polka Hour," and me.

CONAN: And you. And what do you do for an hour?

Mr. BLACK: I just have two-and-a-half minutes.

CONAN: I see. Thank heavens for that.

Mr. BLACK: That's the span I think in, a commentary, you know, or a column, or…

CONAN: Baxter Black, it's been delightful to have you on the program.

Mr. BLACK: Thank you. Welcome to Arizona.

CONAN: Baxter Black, a cowboy poet, former large-animal vet and long-time NPR commentator, author of "Blazin' Bloats & Cows on Fire!" Did I say that right?

Mr. BLACK: Yes you did.

CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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