Leo’s Crooked Cousin
September 6, 2017
I could tell he was upset when we started to the house after loading the last of our lambs. Leo was mumbling to himself and shaking his head. I also knew why he was upset but he didn't know I knew.
We had shipped most of our lambs a few days earlier. Basil McKinley bought lambs for the Swift Packing Plant in San Angelo, Texas. Every year, along in October, Basil would call and tell me how much my fat lambs were worth. Basil's magnificent border collies would hold the lambs in a corral corner while Basil worked his way through the tightly packed lambs to feel their backs for the right amount of fat. Any lamb failing the fat feel would be marked to cut back. Most of our lambs were fat and went straight to the packing plant. The few left would go to a feedlot to finish on a hot corn ration.
We had five loads of fats and about half a load of feeders. Basil told me what they were worth and said as soon as he found half a load to ship with the feeders, he would order a truck. Leo piped up and said, "Mr. McKinley, I think my cousin, Freddy, might have a half load of lambs just like these feeders. Freddy never gets his lambs fat like we do."
Basil got directions to Freddy's and said he would look at the lambs. A day or two later, Basil called to say he had ordered a truck for Tuesday morning and would load Freddy's lambs at six and then load ours.
There are two ways to get a weight fair to both buyer and seller when shipping lambs. One is to subtract a pencil shrink from the actual weight if the lambs are loaded fresh off pasture. The five-percent pencil shrink allows for grass and water the lambs have consumed prior to being loaded and weighed at the local scale. The other way is to dry lot the lambs overnight with no feed or water. This allows the lambs to expel feed and water before they are weighed. It works out about the same.
As the truck was leaving for the scales, Basil pulled me aside and said: "Swift said I could go up a nickel on feeders. Don't say anything because I am not giving Freddy the nickel. He threw a big fit over taking a pencil shrink and promised he would dry lot the lambs overnight. He didn't. Those lambs were full as ticks this morning."
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I walked out and met Basil when he drove into the yard with the draft. When I got back in the house, Leo was drinking coffee and mumbling. I poured some coffee and waited. Finally Leo said, "Boss, do you know what that darn Freddy did?"
"What, Leo?" I answered, trying to keep a straight face.
"He told Mr. McKinley he would dry lot those lambs overnight before they were loaded. Freddy said the pencil-shrink idea is a trick so big rich outfits like Swift can steal from poor people. I told Freddy the pencil shrink was so Swift would not have to pay lamb price for grass and water. Is that right, Boss?"
"That darn Freddy stayed up all night herding those lambs by the creek and when he heard the truck coming, he ran them in the corral and pretended they were there all night. That's crooked, isn't it Boss?"
"It sounds pretty crooked to me."
"Darn that Freddy! I wish I had never told Mr. McKinley about those lambs. Do you think I should call and tell him what Freddy did?"
"No. Basil could see those lambs were full. He has been buying lambs for 40 years. He'll just have to be more careful when he deals with Freddy."
"Darn that Freddy!" Leo said again, shaking his head.
I never did tell him about the nickel that made Basil and Freddy even. I thought maybe Leo was secretly a little bit proud that it was his cousin, Freddy, who skinned a wise old sheep buyer like Basil McKinley out of a nickel.
–Reprinted with permission from Range Magazine