Thursday, September 6, 2012

Krayton Kerns: A Free-Market Look at Welfare for Ranchers

While I was working in Montana, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the writing of a politician, vet, and cowboy from Western Ag Reporter. As I read more, I was highly impressed that we have someone like him in government! I began to think about writing a post for this blog concerning the impact that bureaucracies and the government have placed on ranchers and others involved in agriculture. However, I realized that I would not do the subject justice and launched an email to Krayton. He graciously sent back an email with one of his writings. Below is what it said:


 “Grazing cattle on federal lands is nothing more than welfare for ranchers,” Al said hoping to raise my hackles.  I smiled and said nothing as I knew there would be a better time to respond.  One month later there was.

It was the second year of Double Rafter Cattle Drives and Al’s group of Moen sales-reps, plumbers and builders joined our fledgling operation. It was the third day out, and after 12 miles climbing the rocky Little Horn Canyon, our leads crossed the river and were making the final, steep, climb into the grassy meadows of the lower parks.  I was with Al and several others in the drags, leading the last string of pack mules. 

This quarter-mile climb out of Robinson Crossing can be intimidating and the 100 yard stretch at the top is nicknamed the “beaver slide”.  I can’t recall ever seeing any sliding beavers; it is far too steep for such wildlife recreational activities, but regardless, we trail cattle up it.

Let me give you some background:  Al is an accomplished horseman, cowman, and All-American salesman.  His talents are not limited to the marketing of just plumbing fixtures and he is equally adept at selling you a saddle, the horse under it, a pickup and trailer to haul it, and your very own cow to chase across the pasture.  Al is a living, breathing, walking, and free-market enterprise in a cowboy hat.  Since it takes a big horse with a big heart, and a small brain to pack an entire enterprise, Al brought his own horse, Chili.  This chestnut gelding perfectly fit the above description.

High strung horses like Chili, can get antsy as they trot up the steep canyon trail and then spot the open park at the crest of the beaver slide.  Their only thought (if they are capable of thinking) is to charge to the top.  When you put such a coiled-spring, equine athlete behind 30 tired cows and calves you have the recipe for a disaster.

Nearing the slide, Chili was lathered and prancing sideways up the single-file trail. Al checked the reins and Chili began spinning in place. The sound of Chili stomping around the downfall heightened the excitement for those of us who knew what was coming next. The cows ignored it all and continued plodding.

Because Al and Chili disappeared behind a tree, I couldn’t see exactly what happened, but the sound of crashing timber, tumbling horse flesh and cursing was fantastic. Suddenly Chili, now rider­less, burst from behind the tree and galloped up the slide. Al staggered into view and gripped a tree branch to keep from rolling to the bottom of the canyon. With his cowboy dignity crushed in the mishap, Al began climbing the beaver slide on all fours.

I crested the top about the same time our sweat soaked hero stumbled out of the timber.  Seizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I rode up as Al huffed and puffed to catch his breath. “So Al, how cheap would this welfare grass have to be before you would trail your cows up here?” I quietly asked. (It is so easy to be mouthy when you are mounted and the object of your prodding lacks the oxygen to stand upright.)

“You couldn’t pay me to run my cows up here,” Al gasped, giving the perfect real life example of the free-market establishing true value. Grass is worth $2.00 per animal unit on the mountain and $20.00 per unit in the valley because you rarely flip your horse over backwards trailing cattle on leased flatlands in the valley.

Other than the analogy to economics, I told you this story because it is the only time anyone in Montana history, came out on the top side of Al. I knew my lead would be temporary and I wanted the event recorded in print. So here it is, now back to politics.

The current administration is attempting to destroy the free-market and replace capitalism with socialism. Because AIG, Citibank, GM, Chrysler and Bank of America have accepted taxpayer bailout funds, the Obama administration is assuming control of their operations. President Obama’s new Pay Czar has declared these company executives will take a 50 to 90 percent pay cut. Before you cheer, answer me this:
What is the difference between the above and the Pay Czar deciding all farmers receiving CRP payments or ranchers grazing cattle on federal lands, will also take a pay cut? (Setting aside the fact many farmers and ranchers are already destitute and have no fear of pay cuts.) How about all you new college grads with a fresh degree and thousands of dollars of taxpayer guaranteed student loans? Will the Pay Czar send you on a ten year stint in the jungles of South America before he allows you to return home and earn a paycheck?

What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and there are millions of American ganders who are about to learn Obama’s recipe cooks more than just the goose. Read the US Constitution and tell me by what authority the federal government can dictate how much a citizen may earn. It is not in my copy, but apparently President Obama sees it in his.  

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