By Lee Pitts
I’m the first to admit when I got started in the cattle business in the town I grew up in, I did not have very good cattle. Everyone correctly assumed 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 at that time, one could buy a very good Angus bull for $700. It may come as a shock to younger cattlemen 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. It’s hard to believe bulls used to cost so little. Especially, 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 cowherd – 50 head of 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 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 U.S. 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.”