Monday, October 21, 2019

The Shrewd King 14.1: Shirt-sleeves, suit, shirt-sleeves

Kelly sought out Farmer Ken the Sunday before the grain auction.

“I don’t know if this will change how you want to do things, but I will be buying four lots of corn tomorrow.” Kelly said.

Ken’s eyebrows shot up. “Why so much?”

“I got a contract for ethanol from that Benicio guy and a fella from Mason.” Kelly said."That, and Di is paying Blastic 20 bushel of corn a week to lease some horses from him."

“Between the Amish farmers bringing four lots and our selling five, you are hogging almost half the sale.” Ken said.

Kelly shrugged. “I am giving you a head’s up so you can plan. What you do with it is your business.”

Ken had a quick pow-wow with the other two farmers. Neither one wanted to bump up the seventy-five bushels they were selling a week.

Ken talked to Milo. He had title to almost all of the wheat in the neighborhood and the first of the winter wheat crop was about three weeks from harvest.

Ken also sent a kid on a bike to deliver a message to Mr Yoder that there would be a market for more than sixty bushel of Amish corn if they wanted to send more.

On auction day Mr Yoder brought four lots of Amish corn. The corn came from four different families than the week before. The community was spreading the wealth around but had no desire to ship out more than sixty bushes a week.

Ken auctioned off the Amish corn first and it all sold for the reserve or one bid more at $60 silver per lot. The corn was purchased by Kate, Luke, Pete and Benicio.

Then Ken auctioned off the commodity grade corn one lot at a time. Kelly bought the first two at $45 a lot.

The third lot went for $50 silver to Kelly.

The fourth lot went for $60 silver.

The fifth lot went for $75 silver.

Kelly got his of the four lots but the next auction promised to be much more contentious.

After paying the families who had produced the corn, Mr Yoder had a discussion with Mr Miller, Mr Yutzy and Mr Gruber. “The English paid $6 a bushel for their corn and only $4 a bushel for ours.”

Mr Gruber shook his head. “It is because ours was auctioned off first.”

“We could raise the reserve.” Mr Miller said.

“We could. But we might not sell any corn and Mr Yoder does not want to have to haul the corn back.” Mr Yutzy observed.

“Sixty bushel of corn is a full load.” Mr Yoder agreed.

“We could tell the English that we want to sell our corn last.” Mr Miller suggested.

“And then we run the risk of getting poor prices if there are few buyers.” Mr Yutzy said. He was something of an authority on auctions. "We don't want advantage, we want fair."

Mr Miller decided to stop making suggestions.

“How well do you know the English farmer, Ken Kellogg?” Mr Gruber asked Mr Yoder.

“As well as I know any English farmer.” Mr Yoder replied.

“Tell him that we will continue to send sixty bushels of corn a week to his auction but he has to sell the lots Amish-English-Amish order so everybody has a chance at a fair price.” Mr Gruber said. "Also, tell him that there is no reserve. It sells for whatever buyers want to pay."

And that, was that.


Phil Wilder shook the sweat out of his eyes. He dare not reach up and wipe them.

One hand was full of sheep hoof and the other was clutching a hoof knife. Both hands were slippery with sheep shit.

Sheep hooves continue to grow and look like jester’s slippers if not trimmed on a regular basis.

Sheep hooves get packed with mud and sheep poop. Sometimes rot sets in. It is a hard, filthy, back-breaking job.

“This sucks.” Phil muttered.

John Wilder, his dad, agreed but was not going to cut anybody in the family any slack.

“It is a job that has to get done. Mrs Treadwell agreed to teach us and that means we learn by doing.” John Wilder said.

Mrs Treadwell showed them how to trim hooves. She made it look easy, flipping the 180 pound ewes backwards into the hammock. In less than two minutes the ewe was back on her feet bleating loudly and looking for her lambs. Mrs Treadwell showed them how to use two different kinds of knives and two different kinds of tin-snips to accomplish the job.

Mr Wilder asked which tool was best.

Mrs Treadwell admitted that the people who trimmed many thousands of hooves a year preferred the knives because they were faster...faster but higher risk of cutting one’s hands. She also said that they often carried spares so as one dulled they could switch to a sharp one...and they had lanyards so they could use both hands to muscle the ewe without losing the knife in the mire.

Mr Wilder did not allow his boys to even try the snips. He had Mrs Treadwell adjust the lanyard and told the boys “We might as well get good with knives because I plan to have thousands of sheep.”

Mrs Treadwell overheard and helpfully added, “And they have four hooves each.”

Phil thought his dad was over-the-top in expecting them to become expert hoof trimmers. “I thought we were going to hire this out?”

“We probably will.” John Wilder agreed. “But who is going to train the help?” he asked.

“We could just hire people who already know how to do this.” Phil said. He was, after all, an accountant not a sheep wrangler.

“I suppose you could. But if you don’t know how to do it, then you won’t know if they are doing a good job and you won’t know if they are slacking off.” John Wilder said.

“If you used shears then you might think one ewe every five minutes was par. But Mrs Treadwell did one in two minutes and she is over sixty.” John Wilder said.

“So what is the right time-standard?” John Wilder asked.

“One every five minutes? One every two minutes? One every ninety seconds? It makes a big difference when it comes to how many people we hire and how big we have to make facilities to handle the flocks.”

“Do you know how to turn a family business into a million dollar business?" John Wilder asked, seemingly out of the blue.

"No. How?" his son Phil asked. He did not have breath to waste on long sentences.

"Start with a ten million dollar business." his dad said.

"We will always be outsiders, here." John said. "We came after Ebola burned out. If we take advantage of our wealth then people will feel righteous taking advantage of us."

"But if we are always quick to grab the shitty end of the stick, they will see us as the exception." John said.

"I want my grandchildren to have an advantage in this world. They won't if we act like we think we can buy our way to prosperity."



  1. I wonder if Benecio is taking a more pragmatic course these days.
    Perhaps he has realized that this community of farmers and merchants is far more valuable to him alive, growing crops, and making alcohol that they would be dead.

    1. In the industrial economy it is sometimes called the "Make or buy decision".

      Since Benicio only has a two year business degree from a community college, he is not burdened by fancy theory. He also has a good grasp on the quality of his soldiers. Better to have 100% control within his area than to over-extend and lose control.

      Loss of control would likely result in a bullet in the back of his head. Again, he has no illusions.

  2. Just smiling. Pugsley decided to diagnose my daily driver since it wouldn't start. After several hours, he had removed all the components to remove the starter. We took it down to have it tested.

    It was perfect.

    I then started to pay attention. The first thing I had told him to do was to pour soda (pop) on the battery terminals to clean the metal and improve the contact.

    I looked at the battery terminal connection. The copper terminal was white. I wandered inside, brought out some lemon juice, and the next time he cranked it it purred like a kitten.

    I count it as a win. He successfully pulled and reinstalled the starter on my car on his own, and now knows to do the easy checks first, and that dad might not be an idiot. He spent about eight hours on the project - and was happy when it worked.


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