Home > Greatest Blog Hits > Riding With the Local Used Cow Dealer in West Point, Nebraska

Riding With the Local Used Cow Dealer in West Point, Nebraska

May 30, 2007

Part 5 of an 11-part series from The Middlewesterner, November 23, 2004 (see the “Focus: West Point Nebraska” category to read the rest)

“I was born and raised with a gun in my hand,” Steve volunteered. “I don’t know what it would be like to live without guns and hunting.”

We pass some empty hog lots along a back-road. “Big guys are squeezing the little guys out,” he said.

“Eighty percent of farmers around here are at retirement age,” he said, “but they can’t afford to stop farming.”

We pulled into the yard at a feedlot. “A few dead beef here,” he said.

“When it dries up, I’ll really get busy,” he said. After all the moisture, he thinks, livestock will be dying of pneumonia.

“I have to make out some slips here,” he said. “Some feed yards want to keep track of the ‘deads’ that are hauled out.”

Two dead black beef cattle have been pulled out of the feedlots for Steve to pick up. One of them is bloated more than the other one, its legs poking out like the legs of a balloon cow, its bung-hole bulging hugely, its belly bloated in an arc. “I don’t know how your stomach is,” Steve said by way of warning. “I let the air out of them.” He poked the dead animal’s great belly with his butcher knife, and you could hear the air coming out, a stream of liquid squirted out like a lazy geyser, you could smell it. “That’s the smell you don’t get used to,” Steve said. He lets the air out of most of the bloated animals, he said – “that way I can get more of them in the truck.”

“I have to keep a record of what I pick up – for the rendering plant,” Steve said. He showed me his chart. There were columns for Beef / Calf / Hog / Horse / Other / Name of farmer he picked up from / Number picked up.

“There’s one thing you see a lot of in these feed yards,” Steve said. “Cattle dogs. A lot of yards use them to move cattle. They’ll have men on horses and a good dog to control the cattle.”

Steve had worked at a feed yard himself, working with 16,000 head of cattle. He would get up at 5:00 a.m., he’d get done work about 9:00 p.m., he got one Sunday a month off. “We took our work seriously,” he said. “We had less than one percent death loss that one year – that low a rate is almost unheard of. Of course, you don’t get paid extra for that. We’d ride horse forty or fifty miles a day; each of us would wear out four horses a day. In the winter we had to walk the lots.”

“I like driving out through this country,” Steve said. He told me about a cousin who works as an “integration manager” for Gateway Computers and likes to get out in the country too. “He’s a wildlife control fellow,” Steve said. “He’ll trap two hundred coyotes and foxes a year. He makes almost no money doing it, he does it to help out the ranchers.”

In years past Steve and Cindy raised calves. He’d get the calves for nothing from some of the feedlots, they’d be new-born. “For a while, it was twenty-two bottles in the morning, twenty-two bottles at night,” Steve recalled. He has a friend, a carpenter, who needs the income now, so Steve has been giving the calves to that fellow. “He has it worse than I do,” Steve said. “It would be a better world if we all did things like this. These values are what I like about living here.”

by Tom Montag

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  1. June 3, 2007 at 12:20 am

    (o)

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