There's not anything much scarier than ignorance armed with confidence.
That's what Hooter couldn't help but think as he sat beside Uncas Binglemeyer at yet another bull sale and watched in fascination as Uncas—red pencil clenched between his jagged teeth—ran his fingers at lightening speed over the keys of an ancient calculator with a gleam in his eye and an occasional snort of satisfaction, only stopping at odd moments to bid on a bull.
Over the course of a week and eight sales, Hooter had yet to figure out what it was that caused Uncas to bid. And, Uncas only bid once on a lot. So far, this approach had yet to snare him the new herd bull he'd asked Hooter to help him find.
Mind you, Hooter wasn't using the term of ignorance in a facetious way. It simply meant that despite facts, Uncas chose to believe how he chose to believe, no matter the logic. And he did so with the confidence of a card shark at a poker game for the blind. It had always been that way.
Faithful readers will recall meeting Uncas several years ago when he'd enlisted Hooter's help to market what he believed was the granddaddy of the next genetic revolution in the U.S. cattle business.
At the time, Uncas had crafted a narrow, pencil-gutted behemoth he called Sir Loin-A-Lot: an eighth Angus, an eighth Hereford, a sixteenth Simmental, a sixteenth Maine Anjou, a sixteenth Watusi, an eighth Nellore, the other seven-sixteenths being the Binglemeyer I composite, a combination that Uncas held more secret than the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa. Thanks to Uncas' flimsy grasp of semen storage protocol, the industry was spared Sir Loin-A-Lot.
Hooter hadn't seen Uncas much in the years since. It had been rumored around Rio Rojo County where Uncas used to live, and among his former 4-H judging teammates—of which Hooter was one—that Uncas had skipped the country all together in hopes of finding a reality more in line with his unique perspective on beef cattle production.
Never Let the Facts Fool You
As an example, when someone had the audacity to suggest that he might get more return with a defined calving season, Uncas' pat reply was, “I never believed in sticking all my chicks in one bucket; with calves coming year-round, how can you help but average out the seasonality differences in the market?”
When someone made the mistake of arguing that cattle were worth more in groups, Uncas would reply, “Do they sell packages of steak or hamburger in groups? I think not.”
And, Heaven help anyone who suggested that producing calves that could consume more in the feed yard was a plus rather than a minus. “It doesn't matter how many pounds are in the carcass, it's how much it costs to produce each of those pounds,” Uncas would say.
Get on the subject of records, and that's where Uncas would really light up, like a roman candle in a vat of nitro. After all, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who kept more records than he did, albeit records of a unique variety.
Rather than weights, Uncas recorded the position of the moon and barometric pressure for the day each calf was born, or that he suspected that it was. Come cutting and branding time—which could occur anytime up to yearling age at the Binglemeyer Ranch—Uncas was keen on recording pastern diameters and cannon bone length, using a measuring device he had constructed himself. Then, on sale day, Uncas used some combination of the sale price, shrink, five-year basis and the opening Dow average to come up with a number he simply termed the Factor. The result of all of this was what he affectionately referred to as the Binglemeyer Index, which he calculated for the dam of each calf.
“See there!” Uncas shouted from within a cloud of green-bar computer printouts he was showing Hooter, “That's why this system works. The numbers say this cow here should have been open and she was…It's consistent, too. She hasn't had a calf since 1999. How's that for accuracy?”
“That's hard to top alright,” grinned Hooter. “You reckon the vet could have told you that at preg-check time each of those years rather than waiting to collect the numbers?”
“Of course he could have,” said Uncas in a patronizing tone, “But designing new selection tools requires commitment. It's the price of leadership.”
What do you say to that?
When Uncas had reappeared in Hooter's life and coerced him into helping find the herd sire Uncas said he needed to take the Binglemeyer program in a new direction, he never got around to explaining what direction he had in mind.
“It's a little-known fact,” confided Uncas at the first stop on their bull buying odyssey, “But if you take the length between a bull's scrotum and navel, and divide by his adjusted yearling weight, then multiply by 100 you will have a very accurate predictor of the percentage of twins a bull will sire in his lifetime.”
Hooter could only suppose the pursuit of this arcane conjecture had something to do with Uncas tramping through the pens at each sale and flashing a laser pointer at every bull he was interested in, much to the dismay of wary bulls and onlookers.
“Plus,” Uncas continued, “I've proven to myself conclusively that the length of a bull's poll is directly correlated to his disposition, the longer the calmer.”
After flashing his laser in the wrong bull's eyes and being chased over the fence, Hooter asked, “What exactly what was the length of his poll?”
Saving Yourself From You
Ever since they began the trip, Hooter had been trying to pry from Uncas some semblance of what exactly he was looking for.
What kind of genetics do you want…what kind of weaknesses are you trying to shore up at home…are you going to sell the calves or keep them…do you want to keep daughters back…on and on.
To each question, Uncas would reply with a knowing smile, “Yes, but what comes after that?”
If Uncas expected an answer, he'd forgotten that when he wanted to Hooter could be more patient than a hungry cat at a rat hole.
Finally, at the last stop, when Uncas posed the question and still got no reply, he couldn't help himself. “Next, what comes next? Pounds and performance have been done to death. Reproductive performance is nothing new. Convenience traits are in the eye of the beholder. Serving capacity, carcass traits, combinations and indexes of all those things, the train has already left. Know what I'm saying?”
“No, Uncas, I have no idea what you're saying, but I'm guessing your fixing to tell me,” smiled Hooter.
“I'll tell you what comes next,” said Uncas confidently. “Hide quality.” He was becoming more animated now than Hooter had seen him in the last week. He even shut off his calculator.
“It's been right in front of us all the time,” said Uncas with the serenity of a pig discovering a new bog. He sketched his thought in the air, dotting it with his pencil for emphasis. “Fractionally speaking, hide quality is where it's at; not just volume and consistency, mind you, but thickness as well.”
Even Hooter couldn't have guessed the destination of Uncas' twisted calculating.
“Pound for pound and ounce for ounce, the relative value of the hide will grow exponentially, I'm telling you. I've done my research,” said Uncas with a final flourish of the hand.
“Sold!” boomed the auctioneer's voice from the block. “Laser boy there in the top row got him.”
“Which way's he go?” asked the ring man.
“But…” stuttered Uncas, “I didn't mean…”
“Fine bull you've got there, sir. No finer in all the sale. Name, please?” pressed the ring man.
“Uncas, Uncas Binglemeyer,” interjected Hooter. “No address necessary, he'll be paying cash.”
“But…” stammered Uncas.
Hooter clapped him on the shoulder. “That's a right good selection there. Middle of the road all the way. With him, you can leap any direction you want.”
“Look at it this way, Uncas. His navel to scrotal placement ratio might not be what you'd hoped, but there's lots of room on that hide for your brand.”