by: Wes Ishmael

Part I

Hooter ran through his mental list one more time as he started his pickup:

*Fresh-pressed Wranglers and shirts…check

*Shave kit…check


*Cell phone and charger…check

*Roll of Copenhagen…check

*Business cards and billfold…check

*Piggin' String…because you never know.

*Plane ticket…check…

Hooter was heading for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Convention (NCBA) in San Antonio. He wasn't much for the meeting part of meetings, but when it was his turn to attend as the official representative of the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's Association, he enjoyed the chance to meet new folks and swap ideas.

Plus, he was booked at the historic Menger Hotel, just across the street from the Alamo. This is where Captain Richard King himself—Civil War blockade-running steamboat pilot and King Ranch patriarch—once had a suite of rooms. Teddy Roosevelt had set up shop in the hotel bar to recruit his legendary Rough Riders. The first public demonstration of barbed wire had been held outside the hotel, according to history books, and orders taken for the new technology on the inside. Shoot, even Kinky Friedman held a press conference there for what would be a failed gubernatorial campaign.

As if that wasn't enough, Hooter's old running buddy, Sammy Beavertooth was attending from South Dakota.

Lonnie Johnson leaned into the window. “Don't spend all of your time gawking around and whatnot. And, don't you and Sammy get up to no good. Remember, you're there representing all of us.”

Hooter grinned. “If we get tossed into jail, you're the first one we'll be sure to call.”

Lonnie spat a stream of Mail Pouch at Hooter's wheel.

“And, if any of those animal rights pinheads show up to protest,” said Peetie, taking Lonnie's place in the window, “Don't encourage them.”

Hooter rolled up the window and was off to catch his plane.

River Shock

Hooter had been to San Antonio enough times over the years to have some familiarity with that city's storied River Walk, meandering along the banks of the San Antonio River headwaters. He knew that if you had enough coyote in you to need to be able to see out, the picturesque path could be plumb claustrophobic. That's why if he ventured there alone or with others, he'd trot back up to street level whenever steps presented the opportunity.

It was on his second day in town, before he'd hooked up with Sammy, perched above the River Walk that Hooter spied her in the distance: Eunice Nicklecock. There could be no mistake. This was the same pudgy Yankee who had first accosted him a decade earlier when she was the senior strategist from a group called People for the Ethical Treatment of All Life (PETAL). At the time, Hooter's retaliatory tactics against the nonsensical organization had earned him a spot on PETAL's most wanted list.

Faithful readers of this column will remember that Hooter ultimately introduced Eunice to some white armadillos, and the horrifying legend surrounding them, which sent her screaming into the night. Then, a few years later, she'd escaped the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute in Wyoming where she'd been resting her nerves against her will.

Through different means, Hooter once more dispatched Eunice from Apache Flats to the folks in the little white suits.

But here she was, standing in the middle of the River Walk, not so much handing out colorful leaflets as thrusting them into the chests of passersby who had to take the leaflets in self-defense. There was something different about her, though, the way she rocked back and forth on her plump feet, robotically shoving the leaflets at people, her eyes pinballing about in constant surveillance.

Hooter, of course, made a beeline for her.

He strolled casually toward her with the rest of the crowd. He stopped in front of her as she pushed the leaflet at him. “Heya Eunice, tangled with any white armadillos lately?”

Eunice looked at him with a blank expression. “Pardon me? Can I help you? Here.” And she handed him another leaflet.

Hooter reversed directions back to his perch above the walk. He knew how to read people. He knew that Eunice didn't know him from Adam, that white armadillos were buried so deep inside her memory that she couldn't find them.

Hooter looked at the leaflet: “Free the Amoeba!” Good grief, she really had found a new low.

No worries, though Hooter, spying his watch and remembering the meeting he needed to be at, I bet she's in town all week.

Stirring the Cauldron of Creativity

Actually, Hooter was surprised at how much he truly enjoyed the sessions the previous day at Cattlemen's College.

The folks from the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management had shared a couple of presentations that were truly outstanding. One had to do with figuring out right-sized cows for efficiency, which started with getting a tight loop on what efficiency is to begin with.

“Barry Dunn, Jennifer Johnson and J.D. Radakovich came up with this,” Hooter relayed to Charlie the previous night. “The most efficient cow is the one with the highest milk potential that can, without reducing the percentage of calves successfully weaned, repeatedly produce a calf by bulls with the growth and carcass characteristics valued most in the marketplace.”

“So, cow size doesn't matter much as long as they're efficient?” Charlie wondered.

“Exactly. Just like Peetie has always maintained.”

The other KRIRM presentation had to do with how to make more money by taking advantage of anomalies in the market-place—buying under the market and selling at the market or over—what they termed market arbitrage, and making more trades during the calendar year, what they called increasing the asset turnover ratio. For a stocker operator like Hooter, it made all the sense in the world.

“So, what's that say about retained ownership?” wondered Charlie, who for the past few years had been retaining ownership in a portion of his calves.

“Well, they said retained ownership has got its advantages, but the industry hasn't spent much time talking about its challenges, like lost opportunity, cash flow constraints, increased risk and loss of flexibility.”


“The bottom line is they used actual numbers from King Ranch and compared what their returns per animal unit would have been if they'd retained ownership in and fed their own cattle, versus how they typically do things, which is selling their ranch-raised calves, purchasing back lower cost calves to background and to feed. All said and done, between 2001 and 2008 their average profit per animal unit ranged from $147 to $487. If they'd retained ownership it would have ranged from a plus $96 to a negative $154.”


“Yep, wow,” said Hooter. “Then there was a session on global economics. Greg Dowd, the NCBA Chief Economist says he thinks the economy has at least hit bottom, but recovery is going to be a long, slow ride. He also said it didn't matter how much money the government throws at the stimulus because the world isn't a one-nation economy anymore, but a multi-nation one.”

“Wrong tool for the right job,” said Charlie.

“Exactly. Did you know China's GDP has to grow at about 8 percent per year just for them to maintain their social programs, and that the size of their middleclass population is as large as the entire U.S. population?”

Hooter could hear Charlie let out a long, low whistle through the receiver. “You knew it was big, but that gives it some perspective. What about interest rates?”

“He reckons it will be a while before the government can increase them much.”

On and on went their phone conversation deep into the night.

Now Hooter was off to meet with Sammy and see what they could learn in the trade show. On the way, he phoned Charlie: “You'll never guess who I saw on the River Walk…”


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