Pitts: Losing Ground

Ever since I subscribed to my first livestock periodical at the age of 15 my favorite section to read has always been the ranch real estate ads because to me, dirt is the secret to prosperity and happiness. Land is a much better investment than cattle because land doesn’t run away or die from anaplasmosis.

I’ve always dreamed of owning my own ranch, one that would pencil out and could be paid for with the cattle I raised. Alas, I’m 70 years old and the only land I’ve ever owned is under my house and on the bottom of my boots. Along the way I used up a lot of Ticonderoga #2 pencils trying to find a place that would pay for itself.

I used a variety of formulas to find a ranch that would “pencil”, such as the ranch should be worth twice the value of the cattle it would carry. The only place I ever found that penciled out was in the Malpais borderlands that would starve a saguaro cactus to death. It was also on the Mexican border and I’m glad I didn’t pull the trigger on that deal because it’s now a jumping-off point for illegal aliens and drug smugglers. No wonder it was what’s known in the trade as “an oleo ranch”… a cheap spread.

Okay, I admit I did place a couple parameters that made it harder to find a place of my own. Although I absolutely love places like Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska I’m a bit of a wienie and could never survive their winters. I also didn’t want a public lands ranch because that would mean I’d have the government for a landlord and I’d rather be boiled alive, have recurring kidney stones, or be kicked in the groin than to have that band of misfits, crooks, weirdos, freaks and screwballs in Washington DC have such control over me.

By the way, according to the infamous western figure, Tom Horn, being kicked in the groin is one way to gain ground. “You want some land,” he asked, “I’ll kick you in the @#$%& and you’ll have a couple achers.” (At the age of 43 Horn acquired his own plot of ground in Boulder, Colorado, after he was hung for allegedly killing a kid.)

My last restriction on buying a ranch was that I didn’t want to have to mollycoddle and babysit a bunch of hunters, fishermen, dudes or dudettes just to make ends meet. No Air BNB’s or “glamping” for me.

Of course, I could have taken the easy way out and married a rancher’s daughter and I have noticed that the more land a rancher owns the prettier his daughter is, but I couldn’t help it that the only woman I’ve ever loved was just as land poor as me.

I suppose the real reason I never bought a ranch was because of all the ranchers I’ve met over the years I’d say about 90% of them were rich but broke. Poor but loaded. Busted but wealthy. They might have a net worth of ten million dollars but didn’t have two nickels to rub together because it was all tied up in their ranch. They are land-locked into path of poverty. A ranch couple might only vacation once a year and that’s when they go to Cheyenne or Winnemucca for a video sale to watch their calves sell.

Some people say that all land is good for is holding the world together but I think it’s the best store of value there is. Certainly better than Bitcoin. So I’ve continued to dream about ranches in never-ever-land from seven to $775 million and in the meantime they’re getting more and more out of my price range. The price of ranch land in Texas went up 29% last year alone! Astute land-grabbing tech billionaires like Bill Gates and John Malone are fueling the rise.

In hindsight, I should have just bought a place because I doubt that ranch land has ever penciled out. Even when Florida sold for 17 cents an acre or when we paid Mexico 34 cents an acre for Arizona and New Mexico I bet you’d break a bunch of pencils trying to find a way to make it pay with cattle.

Meanwhile, all I’ve been doing is losing ground.

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