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It’s the Pitts: The Middle Man

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By: Lee Pitts

I was born at the wrong time, but then, my timing has always been off. At the tender age of 21, I was hired as a field editor for a livestock weekly and there were eight of us all together.

Every other man was at least 20 years older than me and most were 30 years older. The editor, publisher and owner were also at least 30 years older, so everything that went wrong was obviously my fault. 

When I started work in 1973, the price of feeder calves was 70 to 80 cents a pound, and within my first year, prices for the same weight and age of cattle dropped to 30 cents per pound. Naturally, this was all my fault too.

Due to my youth, my fellow field editors thought they had the right to boss me around. One of them, who I thought was my friend, came to me and said one of his contacts had asked him to find 40 Polled Hereford heifers to be shipped to Japan, but there was one condition – they had to come from Arizona, which just happened to be part of my territory. 

They had to come from a desert environment because cattle from California tested positive for bluetongue even though they didn’t have the disease. My friend said this would be a big feather in my cap, and the grateful breeders would probably buy a big thank you ad on which I’d get a commission. Plus, I’d get to write a fascinating story.

So I paid all of my expenses – motel, gas and food – and crawled all over Arizona to find six people in the whole state who had Polled Herefords for sale. After weeks of work, I finally found 45 head of Polled Hereford heifers and arranged for them all to be blood tested, gathered up at one central location, loaded on a truck and hauled to the port of Oakland, Calif. 

There they were inspected by Japanese health officials who found a wart on one heifer the size of a pencil eraser, and they grounded her.

I was not privy to the selling price. All of this was handled by my fellow field editor who I sensed was making money off of my hard work. 

This was all part of the massive sale of Polled Herefords around the world – 10,000 of which were exported in 1968-69 to Chile alone. The world wanted our Polled Herefords because they had none of their own, as the breed was started in the U.S.

To write my story, I went to the port of Oakland, Calif. on the departure date where I was allowed inside the stretched jet which would take the heifers to Japan. My tour guide called the jet “four engines mounted on a coffin” and told me of an earlier shipment of 30 head from the U.S. to South America which had been improperly secured, the load shifted forward, the pilot lost control and everything died. 

I did a little investigating for my story and also learned about a planeload of hogs enroute from Chicago to Europe which suffocated on the ground in New York. One of the pilots going to Japan with the Polled Herefords called his beat-up airplane “The Vomit Comet.”

There was another load of cattle from New York to Europe which expelled so much moisture, everything froze up inside the plane and they had to make an emergency landing.

Initially, I thought I could write a better story if I went with the Polled Hereford heifers I’d handpicked to Japan, just like the old-time herdsmen who accompanied their cattle on the train trip to Chicago for the International. 

After much consideration, I had “reservations” about my reservations for the flight and canceled at the last minute. The whole thing was pretty sketchy, and I thought it prophetic we’d be leaving from a place called a “terminal.” 

I didn’t want the last thing to go through my mind to be a load of Polled Herefords. 

To make a long story short, afterwards none of the Arizona Polled Hereford breeders would speak to me, my editor never did run my story, and I was later told my “buddy” who gave me the assignment got two free plane tickets and a week’s stay in Tahiti for all of his hard work.

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