Plain Cattle

In the sixties and seventies, I had the pleasure of doing business with a rancher from Dalhart named Dick Silberberg.   Dick had the JJ Ranch, east of Nara Visa, leased as well as a ranch at San Jon, NM, and some pasture outside of Dalhart.   We made a deal with Dick to put cattle out on the gain on these ranches.   He had put us in touch with a border trader and we had contracted a couple of thousand #1 Mexican cattle to come in the spring. 

Dick went to the border to receive the cattle.   The market had improved over $10 since we had bought them and Dick called us to say that the Mexicans were delivering plainer cattle.    The border trader told us we could turn them down, but we had no recourse on the Mexicans.   We discussed the deal and since we had the grass and the market had moved up so much, we accepted the cattle.

I looked at the cattle and they were very thin, up and down for weight and quality and had a corriente end.   As I watched them through the summer, the better quality cattle gained great and the plain cattle just looked worse.   I started worrying about how the cattle would feed.   Our partnership normally fed all of our pasture cattle, but I felt these should be the exception. 

I was talking to Larry Parsons, an order buyer from Stratford, one day and told him about the cattle.   I described them as Mexican ones, twos, threes and cattle I didn’t like in equal proportions.   He still said that he thought he had someone who would be interested in them.   We arranged a day to see them and spent from daylight to dark looking at them.   Larry explained to me that a restaurant chain named Sambos was starting a feeding program to provide meat for their restaurants.   They could utilize the plainer cattle.   He told me that a man named Jim Harmon wanted to look at the cattle.   The only time he could look at them was Sunday afternoon and he would meet us in Dalhart to see them.

I met Larry at two and we waited an hour and a half for Harmon.   Larry explained that Harmon was coming back from the races at Raton and we should wait.   I wouldn’t have waited, but I really wanted to sell the cattle.   Finally, about four, a Mercedes sports coup drove up and Parsons said it was Harmon.   As we went out to meet him, a shapely babe in a very short skirt got out of the passenger side.   Harmon got out and he was covered with gold chains and rings.   He suggested that we go in for a cup of coffee, but I said that if we were going to see any of the cattle we had better get on the road.   Harmon asked his babe to wait at the restaurant and we drove to the Dalhart pasture, which was about 10 miles northeast of town.  

We drove into the pasture and there were ten or twelve cattle standing there.  Harmon asked me if they were representative of the cattle and I looked at them.   There was a 500 pound short corriente and there was a #1 cross that weighed about 950 pounds.   I answered, “Pretty much.   There are cattle better and plainer and bigger and littler, but on the average, I guess so.”   I asked Parsons what he thought and he agreed.    I started to go deeper into the pasture and Harmon said he’d seen enough.

I was furious, assuming that Parsons hadn’t described the cattle to Harmon and that he didn’t want them.   I held my tongue until I could get Parsons alone.    On the way back, Harmon said, “I’ll pay the 54 cents for the cattle, but you will have to pay Parson’s quarter.” 

I was floored.   I was prepared to trade for $0.50 or $0.51 and he just wanted to dink me a quarter a hundred weight.   I looked over at his gold and said, “Look, I will have to talk to my partners.   Can I get back with you first thing in the morning?”   He was surprised, but agreed.

At the restaurant, he asked us to come in for coffee.   I said, “Listen, I have another deal of cattle I want to show to Parsons.   Would you mind if we passed?”   I left and drove around the block and stopped.   I explained to Parsons that I thought Harmon was bogus and, if I sold the cattle, I was selling to him.   I knew he couldn’t pay for them if Harmon backed out, but I explained that I wasn’t selling the cattle unless he agreed to work out any loss we had if Harmon didn’t back out.   Parsons agreed and I sold him the cattle.

The deliveries went well except there was one big crossbred steer that jumped out of the pens.   When they finally roped him and took him to the sale, he weighed 1050.  On the first payment, I had difficulty getting the money and told Parsons that we would deliver no more cattle unless we got a check at delivery.   He explained that the Sambos deal was just starting and that was the reason.

I was curious about how the cattle would look when they were sorted and how Sambos would sort the cattle.   After all of the cattle were delivered, I went by Hi Plains Feedyard at Friona to see how they lotted the cattle.   I was amazed that they had not sorted them.   The whetted my curiosity and I returned to the lot at least once a month to see when they would sort out the cattle that were finished.   They never sorted them, but just shipped them all to the packing plant after about 150 days.   I was amazed as there were 1400 pound cattle in the pens and there were over fat corrientes that weighed 700 pounds.

In March, Parsons called me and said, “Jay, I don’t want you to be mad, but I told someone I would ask you something.”   I told him that I might not answer, but he wouldn’t make me mad.   Parsons said, “OK.   Now this isn’t me, but I told Harmon I would ask.   They got all of the figures on the cattle you sold them and they fed terribly.   He thought that he might have received a terrible weigh up and he wanted to know if you would adjust the price.”

I laughed and knew Parson knew why I was laughing as I had told him of how they fed the cattle.   I answered, simply, “You can tell them I said, ‘No.’”

I continued trading with Silberberg and Parsons and never had a bad deal.   After a few years, it turned out there were some legal problem in the cattle operations at Sambos.   Some folks dealt with the law and Sambos ended up bankrupt, but that is a different story and fortunately not mine.