Lee Pitss: What’s Left Of Us
Just as America is doing, the cattle industry is separating itself into two classes: the HAVES and HAVE-NOTS. According to the USDA, 57 percent of American ranchers have less than 20 cows and the average herd is only 42 head. But it’s the ranches with over 500 cows that produce most of our beef. Going all the way back to the Johnson County Wars, the beef cattle business always has been about the BIG against the small; the HAVES versus the HAVE-NOTS.
HAVE lives in a house that’s been in the family for five generations; HAVE-NOT lives in a double wide. HAVE-NOT pulls an antique two horse trailer behind a 1982 two door Chevy. HAVE loads his $10,000 Quarter Horse into 24 foot Goosenecks® pulled by a 2014 Ford F350. HAVE-NOT’S remuda consists of a 25 year old kid’s horse or a young and crazy BLM adoptee.
HAVE’S highly bred cattle are worked in a hydraulic squeeze chute in a building that’s bigger than HAVE-NOT’S house. HAVE’S working facilities were designed by Temple Grandin, the barbed wire is still shiny on his five wire fences that were built with the aid of a gas powered post driver. HAVE-NOT’S fences were built with the aid of an illegal. His squeeze chute is made from two old dairy stanchions and the loose wire hanging on their fences is Glidden Winner, patent 1874.
HAVE cowboys live in a bunkhouse. HAVE-NOT has a doghouse. The great debate in HAVE’S bunkhouse is whether a Bud Box or a sweep tub is best. The big argument over the HAVE-NOT’S kitchen table is which bills get paid this month.
The HAVES buy their bulls for $8,000 at leading purebred sales and know how well their calves perform because they retain ownership. The only thing retained at HAVE-NOT’S place are the placentas in trader cows bought cheap at the Junker Jamboree. HAVE-NOT’S cows are impregnated by one of the uncastrated calves following them around like ducks in a row, or they fail to conceive. Again. HAVE-NOT’s herd improvement program consisted of buying three year old unregistered bulls advertised in theThrifty Nickel for $1,200 apiece.
HAVE has no calving trouble because only low calving ease EPD bulls are used and only heifers with wide pelvises are kept. HAVE-NOT doesn’t have any calving trouble either, at least that he’s aware of. HAVE NOT fertilizes his pastures by leaving carcasses where they lay while HAVE actually buys fertilizer. The last time HAVE-NOT’S pastures were reseeded was when the Forest Service mixed seed with the borate they dropped on a brush fire of suspicious origin.
HAVE’S calves weigh 775 at eight months and are organic, natural, NHTC, non-antibiotic, grass fed, and qualify for all the programs. HAVE-NOT’S aren’t treated either. At all. For anything. HAVE aims for Certified Angus Beef but all the initials CAB mean to HAVE-NOT is who to call when he’s had one too many. HAVE collects carcass data and uses artificial insemination. To HAVE-NOT the initials AI are the nickname of Allan Iverson. The only thing HAVE-NOT collects are the skulls that litter his pastures.
HAVE was Cattleman of the Year, is on his or her alumni advisory committee, sits on the Fair Board, Farm Credit, and two bank boards. HAVE-NOT went to the fair but never to college, hasn’t paid back Farm Credit and has been denied a credit card by several banks. The HAVES own private land and have wolves but no snakes of the zoologic or BLM variety. They are diversified and may own oil wells, wind farms, solar installations or any combination of the three. HAVE NOT leases his ground, buys his oil by the quart, has a sunny disposition but can be windy.
Mr. HAVE is married to a wonderful woman who keeps all the records, pays the bills, anchors their team roping team, cooks for the main house and the bunkhouse, and come branding time can be seen holding a baby or grandbaby in one hand with a syringe in the other. Mr. HAVE-NOT also has a wonderful wife who does all of the above, in addition to teaching school. If the wife left either HAVE or HAVE-NOT the operation would fall apart within 24 hours.