Lee Pitts: Marryin’, Buryin’ & Carrion
January 19, 2015
Realizing they have an untapped resource for making money, many ranch families have extended their operations to include income streams besides livestock. Some have resorted to wrangling dudes, guiding hunters or renting out their ranches for weddings. After all, there is a certain symmetry, whether you're trying to find a buck or you're getting married, both have about the same odds for success. You also have to have a license for both and there is a bag limit, so to speak.
As with a contractor who builds a house, the real money to be made in marrying or hunting is in the "add-ons" you can charge for. For example, if you have to be at the scene of the accident anyway, you might as well get paid to be the one who marries the lucky couple. Granted, it does require some sort of certification but the barrier to entry is quite low. When my sister wanted me to marry her, not in a literal sense, I got my certification from the Rose Ministries of Las Vegas, Nevada, for $35. And I got to pick whether I wanted to be known as Pastor Pitts or Reverend Lee. (For a few dollars more I could have received a framed certificate instead of the cheap plastic card I settled for.) After the wedding at the reception you could charge for being the DJ who spins the country western music. (I'm assuming the young couple aren't going to want hip hop or rap music, and I use the word "music" with great reservation.)
What better to serve at the barbecue afterwards than your own branded beef, mountain oysters and jerky. You could also charge for the bouquets and boutonnieres made out of leafy spurge, sagebrush or kudzu. If your wife can sew, why not sell the bride and bridesmaid's dresses or rent out footwear like they do at the bowling alley. And what guests wouldn't pay for valet parking, umbrellas and pay toilets, after all, I don't think wedding guests should be expected to use nature's facilities. I think many affluent guests would also pay a pretty penny for upgrading their seating arrangements from a hay bale to a plastic chair.
You could sell grass seed in cute little sacks to throw at the couple afterwards instead of rice. This brings in more income and will also reseed a pasture. If the party goers imbibe too much you can provide wagons and carriages with designated drivers to haul them home. Because they got their car dirty on your dirt road, of course you're going to want to offer car washes as they exit your property. And if the father of the bride can't pay for all these add-ons, why not serve as his loan shark or bookie by carrying a note at an exorbitant rate of interest, or by placing his bets? After all, any man who lets his precious daughter marry a cowboy has got to be a BIG gambler.
Granted, there are not so many opportunities for add-ons with hunting. Oh sure, you can charge a consultant fee to advise the hunter when he's about to shoot one of your cows instead of a moose. You can also charge for a sleeping bag, guide services, port-a-potty, field dressing and for carrying out his buck. Speaking of carrying, if you can't get to the buck or elk your guest shot you would quite naturally add on a charge for cleanup services performed by the carrion that patrol your place. Naturally, if your guest killed an animal out of season, or an endangered species, I'm quite sure they'd expect you to charge for burial services too. I can envision a fee for dog rental, tree stand or duck blind rental, ammunition and artillery, cutting and wrapping, bribing the game warden, taxidermy, and tee shirts and caps advertising your ranch.
To really hit the jackpot you could combine marrying and hunting by offering a hunting honeymoon after the ranch wedding. Or a dude honeymoon by charging them for fixing your fence, flanking calves at your branding, or putting up your hay.
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Just think my ranching friends, the world is your oyster and all you have to do is not be afraid to charge for them. The oysters, I mean.