It’s the pitts by Lee Pitts: Don’t Call Me That
Don’t call me a rancher. I don’t deserve it.
Even though I’ve owned cattle since I was a sophomore in high school I’ve never been a “rancher.” I had my first “cow herd” as a junior in high school consisting of 4 registered Angus heifers and a bull and my first job out of college was being a cowboy, But I still wasn’t a rancher. Even when I had 100 cows, two loads of stockers on grass and 100 head of fat heifers in a feedlot I never considered myself a rancher. A cattleman? Yes. A rancher? No.
Even though I aspired to be one ever since I rode my first horse, I never was a rancher because I never owned a ranch. Although I had all the accouterments: a Stetson, silver buckle, boots, a cow dog to ride in the back of my truck, a rope, spurs, a pair of hay hooks and a brand (US on the right hip), I never had that one thing that would make me a rancher: real estate.
Ever since I got my first subscription to a cow newspaper as a kid, I yearned to own one of the ranches advertised for sale. I drooled over ranches and dreamed of one that I wouldn’t have to drive for half an hour to get to. I desperately wanted a place I could build a proper handling facility and a decent shack for my wonder horse Gentleman. But who wants to make improvements on a leased ranch that belongs to someone else? And so I got by with facilities that made me the laughing stock of the county. You can imagine the ribbing I took every time they helped me work cattle in corrals that included a set of bed springs, a dairy stanchion and the hood of a ‘56 Cadillac. (The dairy business must have been good in 1956.)
I looked for a ranch that made economic sense but never found one. If I did buy a place that cost five grand per cow/calf unit I wouldn’t have any money left to stock it. That’s another thing I’ve never had that many ranchers have and that’s a bank loan. I didn’t want the cows to own me so I haven’t financed one hoof of livestock ever since I had to buy my first steer with a bank loan that gave me ulcers when I was 16!
We don’t go in debt for anything. We’ve owned our own home outright for 35 years and have started eight successful businesses and every one was self-financed. I have no doubt that using OPM (other people’s money) I could have been a big shot by now, but I’m terribly insecure. I’ve been poor before and didn’t like it much.
There’s other reasons I can’t be called a rancher. I’ve never owned an ATV, cattle truck, or tractor nor do I have any desire to do so. And because I never hired anyone to do something I could do, I’ve never had a hired-hand either, although my wife would argue that point.
I’m ashamed that I never achieved “rancher” status. I’ll never forget the time I was at a bull sale where some loud mouth tried to embarrass me in front of my friends by saying, “You’re no cattleman, you’re just a newspaper peddler. You don’t have any skin in the game.”
At the time I owned a weekly cattle newspaper, was working 100 cattle sales a year as a ring man, was the announcer for the nation’s second largest cattle video auction, and all our assets were tied up in things that went “moo.” I sure felt like a cattleman.
My wife doesn’t consider me a rancher either. While I was traveling she was overseeing our cow herd, lambing out our flock of sheep, and receiving loads of trader cows in our broken down facilities that I bought cheap. She still reminds me of the 105 degree day I dumped three loads of trader cows on her while she dealt with three sets of triplet lambs that refused to identify with their crazy mothers. This was all squeezed around working eight hours at her job as a cashier in a grocery store. Believe me, when we talked that night on the phone she called me a lot of names, but none of them was “rancher.”