Texas prickly pear is a common pest to pastures down here but it varies in population and size from region to region, of course. Where I live, the pear grows up tall and is kinda located in patches. The plant seems to like clay soils, mostly. We call ’em pear flats. (They are a favorite place to watch for a big buck from a tall deer blind on a cold December morn.) South Texas Pear is also a favorite diet of cattle when the thorns are burned off. This used to be common practice in the winter months when ranchers purposely burned off the pear thorns to allow their cattle to feast on the leaves. The procedure was usually done by a man using a long hand-held flame thrower that was fired by a trailer-borne Propane tank to which was attached a long hose. The fire instantly removed the thorns leaving the pear ready to eat. As a result, today we have very little pear left on our ranch, the pear having been mostly burned and fed to cattle in the drought of the 1950s.
The first pearburners were invented in Pearsall, Texas, and consisted of a three gallon bronze kerosene pressure tank that was worn on the back of the man. He had to stop constantly and pump up the pressure in the bronze tank in order for it to spew forward a flame that would burn the pear thorns, which left the leaves slick and edible. As one can imagine, being attached to a human bar-b-que grill was a very distasteful job! That rig was replaced by the big tank and long hose model when Butane (a derivative of natural gas, the forerunner of Propane) became available in the ‘20s. All pearburners made a loud roaring sound which the cattle heard and came running for the delicacy. Having done this quite a bit back-in-the-day, I can attest to the danger and difficulty of the job! ….and, “how did Pearsall get its name” you ask? I’m sure this is right ‘cause I heard it around the camp fire, right? Seems a wagon load of pilgrims was headed westward across Texas in a fog. At dark, they stopped to camp for the night. When daylight came, the mother asked, “Pa, look outside and what do you see”? He replied, “Pears all”! ….and now you know why the pearburner was invented in Pearsall.
Up in central west Texas where my friend Ken Welch ranches, his variation of the cactus family is called Runnin’ Pear, grows close to the ground, and if not managed, can become a “solid carpet” running for hundreds of yards and sometimes miles! In the case of the solid carpet scenario, cattle must be worked slowly on horseback. At camp fire one night, one of the cowboys was fussin’ about some cactus thorns in his arm. After he pulled out the long ones, he couldn’t get the real fine ones out so he asked, “Anyone got tweezers”? Of course, no one did, but the all-knowing cook said, “On those microscopic ones, just use your teeth”. So he did and it worked!
Written By: Austin E. Brown II ~ January 20, 2022 ~ Copyright 2022
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