Lee Pitts: The Toothless Cattle Company
I wasn’t always a tightwad. I didn’t always stoop to pick up pennies, straighten bent paper clips or shop in thrift stores. As a kid my grandparents gave me ten Carson City silver dollars every Christmas and birthday and if I had all those coins now I might be in the Forbes 400, but I had to go and waste them on baseballs and bubble gum.
I mowed lawns, delivered papers, dusted furniture in my Grandpa’s furniture store and did anything to make a buck. The funny thing was, the more money I made, the more tightfisted I became. The deeper my pockets got the shorter my arms grew. I’m sure economists have a name for this phenomena.
I’ve always lived in fear of being broke. This was because my father, who was one of those Okies who migrated to California during the depression, reminded us all the time what it felt like to not know where your next meal was coming from. To hear him tell it the Joads in the Grapes of Wrath were zillionaires compared to his family. I never got to the point where I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from but a lot of those meals consisted of a can of chili beans. My college years were especially gaseous.
When my wife and I lived in Australia we lived in a caravan (house trailer) without cooking or bathroom facilities for $40 a week and we budgeted another $40 for all other costs. Once a month we’d treat ourselves to a movie at the cinema even though all they showed were Barbara Streisand movies. When we got back to the states I vowed to never see another Barbara Streisand movie. And I haven’t.
By the time I attained my goal of becoming a rancher we were back to living in a trailer house in a cow pasture we leased. Naturally my tightfisted ways carried over into ranching. I bought my bulls in the slaughter run and the only cows we could afford had no teeth. At one sale the auctioneer thought he was being real funny when instead of naming me as the buyer he said the purchaser was The Toothless Cattle Company. Ha, ha.
We made a lot of money being cheap. After a disaster called The Dairy Buyout I bought stocker cattle for as little 22 cents per pound and after those cattle gained 250 pounds I sold them for 55 cents. I bought several purebred Brahma bull calves in Arizona for $350 each during the height of the earred craze and sold them in a California bull sale five months later for a $2,500 average. I made steers out of bull calves and bought old shelly feeder cows that would bring a lot more when fat, if they lived that long.
I learned how to buy cattle by sitting next to a grumpy old cattle buyer who tried to act mean but every time I was fixing to make a mistake and buy something I shouldn’t he’d clear his throat. He insisted it was just a raspy throat but I knew better. He saved me from my own stupidity on several occasions.
One time I went to the sale yard expecting to buy more cheap cows but I got there early during a sheep dispersal. Instead of buying cows for $250 I bought ewes for ten bucks apiece and thus began our sheep flock. There were many years we made more money selling club lambs to kids than we did selling cattle.
We fed the sheep the leftover, discarded and rotten produce that came out the back end of grocery stores. You wouldn’t believe the waste! It was always at least 15 banana boxes per store filled with lettuce trim, deformed carrots and an assortment of odd onions, old cauliflower, misshaped oranges, mushy melons, squished peppers, potatoes, beets and broccoli. Many times you couldn’t tell why some things were thrown out so it was only natural that I started selecting the better looking produce for our dinner table. My favorite was broccoli but unfortunately that’s what the sheep liked best too. Needless to say, we ate a lot of greens with our chili beans and cancer-eyed cow hamburger. But I never had to worry where our next meal was coming from.