The beauty of barter

July 19, 2016
Bo Brock, DVM

Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing From Rural America.

When it comes to bargaining be careful what you wish for, as Dr. Brock's friend finds out.

One of my good friends, Dr. V., is a veterinarian in south Texas. Dr. V. is a character. He's one of those people who practices veterinary medicine for all the right reasons. He wants to help people and animals and he wants to have fun doing it. He recently told me a story of a client encounter that made me laugh for days.

Dr. V. goes down to the border once a month and stays for a few days taking care of the horses and livestock of the people in that region. He's done it for years. It's a totally different culture with some of the kindest and hardest working people you'll ever meet.

Dr. V. has a way with these folks. Most of them are kind, and they're often poor and humble, but their animals still need care. Dr. V. has such a big heart that he goes out of his way to make sure they get the best care he can muster up and not lose too much money doing it. The barter system is in full force near the border. People there are used to trading goods instead of money, and Dr. V. has learned to play that game with the best of them.

The beauty of barter

The old farmer Dr. V. was visiting had two bulls that needed to be castrated and a cow with mastitis. Dr. V. told him how much it would cost (barely above what it cost him to do it). The old gentleman approved the price, and he soon had two steers and a cow with a happy udder. After the procedures were over, the farmer asked Dr. V. to do a few other procedures for free, since, of course, he had already paid for the essentials.

This is often the way things happen. The locals get the necessary things done with the money they have and then try to get the “luxury” things done with some sort of persuasion. This fella wanted Dr. V. to float the teeth of three horses, palpate 15 cows and castrate a dog. I can just imagine the rapid fire Spanish that must have been going on as these two bickered over what sort of payment would be necessary to get such things done.

After multiple offers and counter-offers, the old farmer was set firm with a cord of wood. Dr. V. was about to agree but insisted that the farmer had to help him load it in the truck. The farmer was determined that he wasn't going to trade the wood and also load it. Dr. V. was receptive, and a cord of fairly sorry wood was probably enough. But the fun of the art of barter is getting the most you can, even if you don't need it.

“OK, I will take the cord of wood and load it myself," he said. "But you have to throw in that white rooster!”

A white rooster? Really? What does Dr. V. need with a white rooster? But he was insistent. He had lost the battle on the help loading the wood, and didn't want to be the loser in the game of bartering. The old gentleman considered this for a good long while. Dr. V. giggled to himself as he went through the age-old bartering ritual with this fella.

Finally, the deal was set and Dr. V. finished working on the animals, loaded the wood and put the white rooster in the back seat of his veterinary truck. He was feeling pretty proud of himself for not being bested during a 20-minute barter.

A rooster in the hand …

But the question is, who really won? Dr. V. was staying in a rundown motel with his wife for two more nights. Where in the world was he going to keep a white rooster for two days? He arrived back at the motel and discovered the rooster had pooped all over the back seat on the trip back into town. He couldn't leave the bird in the truck all night because it would ruin everything in the cab. So, he took it into the motel and put it in the closet. The floor of the closet was concrete and Dr. V. figured that would be easier to clean than the seats of his truck.

You can just imagine what Dr. V's wife said when he came into the motel room carrying a chicken and put it in the closet. He told her that the rooster was an important part of his payment for the day, and he wanted it to be comfortable through the night and safe in the closet. After all, chickens roost at night and the closet was a perfect, comfortable place for a rooster to sleep.

You can imagine what his wife said when the rooster started crowing at 5 a.m. Not just her, but what about the folks in adjacent rooms? Dr. V. was back in the pickup at 5:15 a.m. heading toward the old gentleman's house with a large white rooster crowing in the backseat of his truck.

"Bo," he told me as he fished his story. "I thought I had finally out-bartered an old border farmer, but they always seem to get the best of me.”