Buying Cattle, Down Old Mexico Way, 1970s

I used to brag about our Cholame Valley because of its surrounding mountains the wind seldom blew, but not so this year. As of this 25th day of March 2021 the wind is blowing a gale and has driven me back to the comfort of my house. These shoes that I’m looking at from my recliner chair are made for walking but the wind has bequeathed a day off for them. But it’s still a day to admire from my recliner and not just a day for laziness because I’m told that is the work of the devil. “Do you really think so Jack?", I guess not but the devil has been around for a very long time so he must be good for something. I’ve heard tell that he is the new Sergeant of Arms for our U.S. Capital. His job is to keep order so all our politicians can do their jobs behind razor wire so they won’t have to be disturbed by all the blather coming from we the people. Wait a minute I believe I hear Nancy gavelling the house back into session. “Please listen she said we are offering up a new Pied Piper to lead us down a different Yellow Brick Path that we in congress know will most assuredly lead us all to Nirvana”. "All aboard were off to Nirvana, it’s not far and we will be arriving shortly", said Nancy. "Nancy you’ve got a problem. Nirvana, it’s all on fire and is looking more like a place where the Devil might live".

"Boy I hope I haven’t lost my way". "No there’s a road sign that assures me that l’m going to Nogales Arizona and not Nancy’s Nirvana". Nogales is a town on the border who’s sister city is Nogales, Mexico. This combination makes for a very busy crossing point for cattle that have been bought in Mexico then processed on the Mexican side of the border . Processing is a list of orders that each calf must go through before he can enter the U.S. First the Mordida which is a bribe, that the Mexican Vet charges before he inspects them and if you don’t pay the Mordida most of your cattle will be rejected and sent to a holding corral tell the new owner pays up then the crossing process can continue. The charge is usually about three to four dollars per head that will be added to the cost of crossing. Next the calves are “dipped and scratched”. That means they are sent threw a squeeze chute where upon a Mexican veterinary looks for any cuts or scratches or any unsoundnesses and if found the calf would then be rejected and not allowed to cross the border. Next the calves are driven to a long trough that they must swim for about 30 feet that is filled with water and an insecticide and a detergent so they get wet to the skin to kill any ticks or fleas. Upon leaving the dipping trough they move to a pen where they stand for one hour or so while most of the dip is allowed to run to a drain to be recycled. Lastly they are weighed for duty fees. This weight then becomes the weight that I have verbally agreed to pay so much a pound for when the calves are on the American side of the border. The time is 4P.M. on a November day in the 1970s and the calves will be fed a good feeding of hay and then loaded the next morning on trucks for a short trip to the American side of the line and given a cursory inspection without all the dipping and scratching.

Well this is where the problems begin to mount. The weather forecast for the day was to be cloudy with a slight chance for rain. But this chance of rain, instead turns to snow as my 1,000 calves are still wet to the skin they are already shivering. Tom, my cattle buyer who I traveled around the state of Chihuahua with while he negotiated price and numbers to be bought and delivered to Nogales took about a week.

It had been snowing for about an hour when I asked Tom if we had a problem he said “l don’t think so. These calves are raised so only the strong survive”. With that, he said “let’s go to dinner and we’ll check on them after dinner”. It’s now about 7P.M. and we are headed back to the shipping corrals and it’s still snowing and starting to stick to the ground. Upon our arrival I couldn’t believe my eyes. "What do you think Tom, are they all going to die?", he said “we’ve sure got to do something pronto” and I said “I know we’ve got to get the ones that are now laying down in the slush with a “I give up look in their eyes” dried off”. Tom said “I know of some horse box stalls within walking distance that was once a bush league racing quarter horse farm that went broke, I’ll see if we can use the box stalls and I’ll see about getting some helpers". What seemed like an eternity as I stood helpless as one by one a calf would be seduced by the cold to lie down on the now 2” to 3” of snow on the ground. God am I glad to see you Tom, as he jumped out of his pickup and yelled to five braceros in the back to "get down and bring all the burlap sacks with you". My helpless filling was gone as I envisioned a night that I might just have a chance to pluck myself out of going broke.

Tom spoke perfect Spanish and told the two biggest helpers to start lifting the calves that were down and see if they would walk. It was surprising that most of the calves when prodded would take one wobbly step after another to the box stall. There the other three helpers would start rubbing each calf till he was mostly dry and had that look in his eye that said “I think I’ll make it” were then moved to another box stall to rest. Tom was gone again to get more helpers, 50 pounds of sugar, a dose syringe and firewood. By now he had hired about 8 more workers with more burlap sacks and we now had a fire going outside to heat a mixture of sugar and water heating in a big pot that I hope would be to a calf what a cup of Hot Chocolate on a cold night would mean to me.

I think it was getting on towards midnight and it had quit snowing when I took a few minutes to look around from my burlap scrubbing and drenching calves with the warm sugar water solution to see if we were winning the battle and yes we were as by now the long haired calves were still standing and some were eating so I told the workers that they were to bring only the calves to the drying stall that had short hair mostly the Brahma type and those that wouldn’t get up to just leave them and concentrate on the ones that we could probably save.

Remember the insecticide dip that the calves had bathed in well the vapors that they put off after a few hours were starting to make me feel light headed and I’m sure the other guys were as well so I started a rotation of half hour on and 15 minutes outside. Tom was gone most of the night getting whatever we needed and much to my surprise he told me he located about 50 miles distance and 2,000 feet lower at a warmer elevation Tom rented a couple hundred acres of Sorghum stubble where we could further care for the herd for 4 or 5 days. As the stars started to disappear from view and dawn was coming on it was time to take stock of what happened last nite.

Well, Tom and I started out with almost 1,000 head of calves that were “hail and hardy” now as the sun starts to rise in the east with it’s warming rays. I’m sure every calf is saying I made it through the night. Now I hope the guys that own me won’t put me through that again. It’s three days later, the calves bellies are full from eating Sorghum stubble and most are taking a midday nap. The count going to stubble is 902 which equates to a 10% death loss. That’s hard to justify but our efforts kept us from sustaining a 50% death loss that others did when the owner was not there to make the effort we did.

So where do Tom and I go from here? Well we became partners and with a phone call to a friend of mine, I asked where we might find some California pasture to rent for the season? He replied with a name and number for a rancher near Merced in the San Joaquin Valley. The deal was made and two days later I loaded the last of 8 trucks headed for greener pastures.

It’s June now and those little bedraggled shivering calves who for a moment in my mind the thought “what if they all die?”. What did happen, was that the calves performed well and the cattle market was kind to us. Thus a possible disaster became a decent profit. Tom and I decided that we might make pretty good partners so we joined forces. Tom continued to buy and deliver to me many Mexican calves over the years and I continued to take care of them. We had been good partners over the course of several decades until the value of the “Peso” became so erratic and the risk of being kidnapped by the Mexican Mafia was too great, we ended our partnership but not our friendship.

See Ya

Jack




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