••KEEP••Lee Pitts Mug
Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at leepitts@leepittsbooks.com.

I got my start in the cattle business in the fall of 1973. You old moss backs will recall that was a very dark time. From September of ’73 through March 1975, fed cattle lost money every month. Lots of money. For you mathematically challenged, that’s 19 straight months of going further and further into the red. I suppose times for cattlemen could have been worse; it could have been their money they were losing, not the banks.

It was during this time that I gathered with my financial advisors, a professional poker player, and a derelict member of our local chapter of Gambler’s Anonymous to come up with a business model that would work during these trying times. The plan we settled on was for me to buy shelly “one-shot” cows at auction markets that would be in calf and look like they had a fifty-fifty chance of spitting out an additional offspring in their tarnished golden years.

Of course, the regular reprobates gathered around the sale rings laughed every time I’d buy another cow, and it wasn’t long before auctioneers were announcing the buyer as The Toothless Cattle Company, The Gummer Group LLC, or the Runnin’ On the Rims Ranch.

Ha, ha. Very funny.


I wasn’t laughing because I could sympathize with the bovine victims of inadequate dentition because I had similar problems. Without boring you with medical jargon, let me just say that I have a condition in which my eyes produce no tears and my mouth no saliva. This creates a situation in my dry mouth where bacteria thrive, and they’ve eaten away at my teeth to the point that I regularly have to get another tooth pulled. I’m running out of teeth which means I eat a diet that consists mostly of gruel. A Jack o’ Lantern has more teeth than I have. If I were a cow, I’d be in the slaughter run.

I’ve never had good dentition, which means I’ve always talked like a ventriloquist so no one could see my crooked teeth, and I’m extremely jealous of lucky people who have teeth so tall, straight, and white you could project a movie on them. So I had great empathy for the herd of gummer cows I was building. I’ve read that there are over 800 distinct breeds of cattle in the world, and I think I collected an example of every one of them. There wasn’t another herd-like it in America!

It is a fact of nature that adequate dentition is the major factor that determines how long a cow will live. When their teeth start to go, the end is near. If a cow ate soft silage her entire life, she might live longer than a cow who hunted for dry feed in sandy soils. I’ve heard of great stud bulls living to be 19 years of age compared to the seven or eight years a modern-day range cow might last. Adequate dentition used to shorten human lives too, George Washington might not have lived long enough to become the “Father Of Our Country” if he didn’t have teeth made out of hippopotamus ivory.

I had high hopes that technology might bail out my floundering cattle operation. I read that someone had invented a set of metal choppers that could be inserted into a cow’s mouth that could masticate her food. There was also talk of gene manipulation where an alligator gene could be inserted into bovine DNA. After all, alligators have 80 teeth at one time and during their lifetime might go through 3,000 teeth! Alas, none of these miracles came in time to save me or my motley herd.

Over time as my business model began to fall apart faster than a Chinese-made Rolex, my neighbors joked that I was raising cattle for their hides or to fertilize my pastures. There were reminders where many of my cows perished because the spot where they died actually enriched the soil, and tufts of green grass dotted my topography if ever we got some moisture, which was rarely. At the final meeting of my advisory board, the derelict member of Gambler’s Anonymous asked, “What did your cattle finally bring when you sold them?”

“Tears to my eyes,” I replied. And it wasn’t because of any sentimental attachment I may have had.