Sitting in a middle pew, safely flanked by Aunt Pinky on one side and cousin Charlie on the other, Hooter was thinking he was going to like the new preacher just fine.
“At my last church,” boomed the affable pastor, Bernard Willmore, “On the very last Sunday I was there, Satan showed up. I'm not talking about the way we always see him lurking in the shadows with unkind words and impure thoughts. I'm talking that he showed up in all of his pointy horned, sulfurous smelling glory.” No one was sure where he was heading, but everyone was paying attention.
“We all fled, just fell over each other getting away from him,” said the Pastor. “No, we were not faithful. Yes, we completely forgot those words from 1st Joshua, ‘I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.'
“Don't judge us, though, brothers and sisters. Here was Satan. We all ran, everyone of us, except for an older gentleman in the congregation by the name of Willard Smithwick.”
Willmore's new congregation was beginning to lean forward, starting to hang on every word.
“Satan looked at Mr. Smithwick and yelled, ‘Don't you know who I am?'”
“Satan leaned down to look Mr. Smithwick in the eye. ‘Don't you realize that I could inflict more pain upon you than your mortal body could stand?'”
“Satan squinted at him. He'd never run into this before. ‘Don't you understand that I can send your soul to the fires of Hell for all of eternity?'”
“Satan put his hands upon his scaly hips and glared at our brother. ‘You know who I am, what I can do to you, and you're still unafraid?'”
“Satan was getting good and mad now, stomping around and shouting. ‘You know who I am, what I can do to you, and there you sit. How is such a thing possible?'”
“Well, junior, what you've got to understand is that I've been married to your sister for the past 48 years.”
By the time Hooter and the rest of the congregation stopped laughing, their ribs hurt and there was an eruption of coughing fits. Hooter was especially sore, since Aunt Pinky was less amused and had placed a hard left elbow into his mid-section.
The ensuing sermon revolved around how it is that things aren't always as they seem.
Sorting Suppliers rather than Supply
At coffee afterwards, Hooter chided Lonnie, “You might keep that in mind the next time you go to buying bulls.” He'd wound up with a couple of certified duds the year before.
Lonnie clenched his jaw. “Don't you think I know that. They've got so many numbers for so many different things, I don't know how you're supposed to sort anything out anymore. I tried.”
He had, too. In fact, Lonnie had developed an elaborate spreadsheet that was supposed to account for all of the data, and index all of the bulls he was considering. He included actual performance data, Expected Progeny Differences, actual disposition scores, genomic data and even the inbreeding coefficient.
“That's why I just look at them,” said Izzie Franklin, with a wise and knowing nod.
“So that's the reason behind the rainbow of color and quality,” chuckled Hooter.
“I don't know boys, seems like that's one of the reasons to buy half-brothers. You don't buy the individual bulls so much as the average of the group you buy,” offered Charlie. “All I know is that it has worked out pretty well for me.”
Peetie, the elder statesman of the group with more miles and cattle over the years than anyone else said, “I've tried all of that and more, boys. You know when I finally started getting the best bulls for what I needed and at the best prices; when I started getting the most value?”
Anyone within earshot quit chomping brownies and listened.
“I started concentrating more on the program and the people behind it than the bulls. I did my homework, found some outfits that had the kind of cattle with the kind of performance I knew I could use. I told them all about my program, where I wanted to take it. I asked them for their suggestions. You can sort a lot of chaff that way. The guys who told me they thought they had some genetics that would work for me, but if they didn't, they knew of some other places I might try, those guys made the first sort. Then I checked around, visited with some of their customers, got a feel for the cattle, but mostly for how they were treated by the seller. Those guys made the second sort. Then I asked my top two on the list to send me four bulls. I told them what I'd spend and to just send me the best they could for the money.”
Peetie took a sip of his coffee, too slowly for Izzie. “And?”
“And, I've been doing business with both those outfits for about 15 years now. If it's somebody who understands your program, somebody you can trust, they'll send you better bulls for the money than you can find yourself. That's what I think anyway.”
Hooter was smiling and remembering the preacher's story and Peetie's advice as he rode along for the early morning gather. All he could do was remember, because he and the other day help had been forbidden to utter a word. Hooter had been visiting an old pal in the Dakotas, who invited him to come along.
“These cows are the gentlest you'll find anywhere,” the owner had informed them at a pre-dawn breakfast. “We select and cull hard for disposition. And, we do everything quiet around here, no whip, run and holler. Slow and easy, understand? So, when I give you the high sign, no more talking. Got it?”
Best as Hooter could tell, that high sign had come a couple miles back, and the sun was just now lifting above the horizon enough to silhouette the rocks and brush edging the river banks high above. The crew was riding along a dry riverbed. The only sound was the gentle thump of hooves and the occasional rattle of a bit or spur.
Hooter was watching the owner, who was fairly well standing in his stirrups, scouting the horizon. Every time a horse would snort or someone would unzip a jacket, the owner would turn and glare accusingly, holding a finger up to his lips.
Given the supposed gentle nature of the cows, Hooter was wondering what all the stealth was about. You'd have though they were going to catch ghosts in the act rather than scrub brush for mama cows.
Then it happened. The owner raised his hand suddenly and pulled his rein. Everyone stopped. Way up ahead, peering over the edge of the bank, you could just barely make out the ears and front legs of several cows. Just like that, after one of those eternal seconds, the heads turned into tails.
“Oh no!” shouted the owner. “They seen us. Come on!” And he was off like a shot.