Oh, you never forget that moment.
That moment your first steer is loaded onto the semi, and you’re handed that empty halter.
That dreaded, empty halter.
Maybe he was a sweetheart. Maybe he was a knot head. But as you carry that empty halter back to your stalls – now missing that animal once part of your barn for months – things are different.
And you’re forever changed.
They change you.
For me, it was Tremor the Angus steer. I was 8. For months, we worked together in our Hillsboro, Texas, barn. We grew together and with each show we attended, I learned a bit more about what it took to be a showman.
I was young. Everything was new. And my 8-year-old self never fully grasped what we had accomplished during our final show of the year – capturing the Champion Angus Steer title at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and showing in the Astrodome during a rodeo break for grand champion honors.
We weren’t named grand champion. But Tremor was the champion of champions to me.
Mom and dad prepared me as best they could for what was to come, and Tremor sold in the sale of champions.
The buyers were generous. And the experience was incredible.
But then it was time for Tremor to be loaded onto the semi. And dad returned with that empty halter.
And I wasn’t as prepared as I had thought.
I cried myself to sleep for several nights. And finally, dad sat me down for a chat. He said he knew it was tough. But showing steers would always result in that end. And if I wanted to continue, I’d have to come to terms with that fact.
So I did.
Oh, I cried a bit every year. But I never allowed myself to get quite as attached to another steer after that first year.
Our son, Waylon, reached 4-H age this year. And when he and my husband, Craig, found “the one” in an online sale, we purchased him. And Waylon’s first steer, Lightning, entered the barn.
Knowing their purpose.
Craig and I knew we needed to be proactive.
We had many talks with him and little brother, Nolan, about the role steers play in feeding the world. That we must take the best care possible of these animals while they’re in our care. And when it’s time, we must say good-bye, knowing it’s their time to fulfill their greater purpose.
Waylon and Lightning made the trip together to local and state shows, and to the Junior National Hereford Expo in Harrisburg, Pa. Each show, growing and learning from each other. Each show, improving.
And finally, we ventured to our county fair – Lightning’s final outing.
They had a great final show, with Lightning capturing Champion Hereford Steer honors. He and Waylon worked as a team.
Then sale day arrived. Oh, that dreaded sale day.
Waylon, our often-rational child, handled it very matter-of-factly. To him, this was simply the way it worked. This is why we had a steer, and it was his time. (He gets that rational side from his dad. No doubt.)
But Nolan had many questions about where Lightning was headed and how the process worked. And Craig and I did our best to answer the questions honestly and with care.
So Waylon entered the sale ring with Lightning. And when the auctioneer’s chant was finished, Lightning was sold.
Craig led Lightning to the trailer destined for the sale barn, and the boys said their good-byes.
Two entered the trailer. And Craig exited – with the empty halter in hand.
Cattle teach our children so many incredible life lessons. Some more difficult than others.
But the greatest lesson Lightning taught our boys? That even at the young ages of 9 and 6, our boys can help feed the world. And they emerged proud to play a small role in that enormous responsibility.
They’re already making plans for next year’s steer. And they’re ready to do it again.
Without a doubt, though, they’ll always remember Lightning.
You just never forget that first steer.
This blog was originally published in August 2014 on Drovers.