The Most Interesting Thing About the Cattle Industry

By Jim Whitt, Contributing Editor

“Are you awake?” It was the voice of my wife, Sondra, speaking to me. Usually, a question like this at 2 a.m. means trouble. Was there a burglar in the house?

“Have you read this issue of CALF News? It’s really good. I learned a lot. You were even mentioned in a letter to the editor.” Then she went to sleep. Seriously. I had been asleep but was now wide awake staring at the ceiling with visions of the CALF News dancing in my head.

One of the things I enjoy about CALF News is that each issue is like a walk down memory lane. Whenever I see a picture of someone I know, or read something about them, I have flashbacks of experiences involving that person, which in turn provokes a flood of flashbacks of other people. And that’s what happened as I read the October/November issue – the one my wife woke me up to tell me about.

In Larry Stalcup’s article about West Texas A&M’s new Ag Sciences Complex I saw pictures of Paul Engler, Ross Wilson and Johnny Trotter, which made me think of when I keynoted the Texas Cattle Feeders Association’s annual convention the year Paul was TCFA chairman. Many years earlier when I was selling feed to Cactus Feeders I remember sitting in their headquarters getting schooled on the fine art of negotiation with Paul and his staff. Back then I never dreamed that some day I would be speaking at the TCFA convention with industry giants like Paul Engler and Johnny Trotter sitting in the audience.

Larry’s coverage of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association convention made me think of Richard McDonald, Ross Wilson’s predecessor at TCFA. Richard had recommended me as a speaker to Scott Dewald, who was OCA’s executive director at the time. Then I thought about Dee Likes, Kansas Livestock Association’s longtime CEO, who had recommended me to Richard. Thanks to Dee, who hired me first as a consultant and then to speak at KLA’s annual convention. I have had the privilege of speaking at many beef industry meetings over the years.

When I read about Ben Neier’s passing on page 48, I thought about having supper with Ben and former Servi-Tech CEO Mitch Counce at the Dodge City Country Club one night. As was noted in his obituary, Ben was considered the “father of the feed mixer.” With more than 20 patents to his credit, Ben was always looking for ways to build a better mouse trap. Frustrated that the club’s pepper shakers always required maximum effort and delivered minimal results, Ben took it upon himself to drill out the holes in all of the club’s shakers. The pepper flowed freely during our meal that night.

And sure enough, just as Sondra said, in his letter to the editor on page 49, Bob Sims wrote, “I always read what Jim Whitt has to say.” That made my day, Bob. God bless you!

As I read Baxter Black’s column I thought about one night many years ago when he called me to discuss something I’d written in my column. I was on my way out the door to visit my friend, Katy Teeter, who was in the hospital. Proud that I’d received a call from such a famous person, I had to tell Katy that the reason I was late getting to the hospital was because Baxter Black had called just as I was leaving the house. Katy’s eyes lit up at the mention of his name. “Oh Jim!” she exclaimed. “Baxter Black is my favorite speaker!”

After an awkward silence she continued, “Next to you, of course!”

Ironically, I got a call from Betty Jo Gigot a few hours after my wife’s 2 a.m. wake-up call. Betty Jo told me the theme for the next issue was “people, people, people.” And that’s what provided the inspiration for this column. I wrote about my memories of people as I read the last issue. I was putting the finishing touches on my column when I got a call from Jim Norwood, who provided the inspiration for the ending. Twenty-one years ago, Jim told me that I should write for CALF News because it was the People Magazine of the beef industry. And that’s what makes CALF News such a great magazine. Because the most interesting thing about the beef industry is the people.