Los Osos, Calif.
I’m the first to admit that when I got started in the cattle business in the town I grew up in I did not have very good cattle. Everyone assumed (correctly) that I had so little cash I could only afford other people’s culls, cast-offs and cheap bulls which, at the time, cost $500. Keep in mind that at that time you could buy a very good Angus bull for $700. It may come as a shock to younger cattlemen that in 1972 when I got started, at a typical all-breeds bull sale, which were popular at the time, Angus bulls were not the highest selling breed but were amongst the lowest.
I know, I know, you can’t believe that bulls cost so little in this day and age when a sale of 500 bulls in Montana or South Dakota might average $7,000 and some range bulls to be used on commercial cows cost as much as $20,000! As hard as this may be to believe, I bought my first cow herd of 50 cows for $20,000! But here’s the thing that really upset my contemporaries: the calves out of those cheap cows and cheap bulls sold for just as much as their quality calves did.
I had other reasons for not buying the best bulls. I grew up in a very tough neighborhood, (“the hood”) and I didn’t have the best of neighbors. One of them thought nothing of putting his brand on my calves. Accidentally on purpose, of course. I figured if I had crappy cattle my neighbors wouldn’t covet them quite as much. I also had very wild cattle and any bad actor within a three county area became known as a “Pitts’ cow.” Usually to steal one of my cows they had to rope it and tie it to a tree for two days to let it soak before it could be loaded in a trailer.
I also spread the rumor far and wide that I didn’t test my bulls for trich. (I did but I didn’t want my neighbors to know it.) Believe me, if one of my cheap and potentially sick bulls got on my neighbors side of the fence, or my neighbors were pasturing my cows involuntarily, they’d be pushed back to my side by nightfall. It also meant I didn’t have to do much fencing because the neighbors put up nine new wires on the fences between us.
I did have one neighbor though who I thought was still stealing my cattle. I didn’t want to confront him though because he was as friendly as a locked gate, owned an arsenal of guns and was rumored to have done hard time. It was pretty hard “to love that neighbor as thyself.”
One day I’d had enough. My favorite cow had been missing for days and it wasn’t like her to go off like that. I bought her as a replacement heifer at the county fair and she became a pet, hardly ever getting out of eyesight of the international headquarters of US Cattle Co. (A trailer house we lived in.) So I gathered up my courage and drove over to the home of the snake. He met me at his front door where there was a shotgun leaning by the door. He said it was for varmints but I didn’t know if I fell into that category or not.
“Hey, have you seen my cow Paint?” I asked.
“Is she part brown, red, and black with splotches of white?” he snarled.
“Yeah,” I tried to snarl back at him but my voice sounded kinda squeaky.
“Does she have one horn pointing north and the other south?”
“Yes she does.”
“Is her tail frozen off?”
“Yes, that would be her.”
“Does she have one good eye and the other eye is a round orb of white.”
“Yes,” I said, getting excited that Paint may not be missing after all.
“Can a person walk up to this pet cow and scratch her neck?” asked my neighbor.
“Yes, yes, that’s her,” I replied.
“Nah,” said my neighbor as he inched ever closer to his shotgun. “I haven’t seen her.”
I snarled my lip, balled my hands into fists, stared him straight in the eye and squeaked, “Well then, have nice day.” ❖