No one ever accused cattle of being the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. They mostly just graze, ruminate, poop and sleep. Unlike goats, they are content wherever they are and don’t have a burning desire to get to some proverbial "greener pastures." They don’t seem to have much of a personality either. But when kids spend lots of time with show animals and really get to know them, an animal’s distinct personality emerges. That happened with my friend Kristi’s show steer. And the temperament that came out wasn’t too pleasant.
Her family raised registered Simmentals, so her father didn’t see any need to go buy an animal to show. They picked out a promising bull calf her daddy named Bullet because he used to be a "bull." Usually castration has a calming effect on livestock – well, after the shock wears off. But not Bullet. He was always ornery and found ways to aggravate his young owner. He seemed to delight in lying down in the mud and muck, especially after Kristi had just washed him or was about to walk him. He learned to open the feed room latch and would tear up several feed sacks before littering the room with manure.
Her ag teacher was afraid the steer would grow tall and slender, which is typical for that breed. That was not the kind of steer that placed well in stock shows back in the 1980s. So he encouraged her to pour on the feed. And it didn’t take long for him to start packing on the pounds. By the time he entered the show ring in Wichita County, Texas, he tipped the scales at a whopping 1,300 pounds. A far cry from the lean, muscular build her ag teacher had predicted.
When show day arrived, Kristi was powdered and primped and dressed in a crisp starched shirt. Bullet had been washed, blow dried, combed and fluffed. She had never showed a steer before, instead opting for cheaper and easier to handle sheep. At that time, she was a five-foot tall, 90-pound, high school freshman. It would take a lot of effort to maneuver her big calf, even armed with a long show stick. She was also anxious about how Bullet would perform in the ring. She just prayed he was in a pleasant mood and wouldn’t be ruffled by all the other animals and the noise of the crowd. Her prayers were unanswered.
It wasn’t easy to show him since he was so huge. She had to stand on her tiptoes just to get his head up. When the judge was at the far end of the ring looking at other contestants, Bullet behaved perfectly. But when he came over to them, the nervous steer balked and wouldn’t let Kristi lead him. Then, without warning, he plopped down unceremoniously into the sandy arena. She pulled and yanked on his halter, but he refused to budge. Desperate to get him up, she started poking and prodding him with the fiberglass stick which wouldn’t help her chances of winning a showmanship buckle. Ignoring the disapproving taunts of the onlookers, she whacked him squarely on the rump. He scrambled back to his feet about the time the judge was moving on to look at another contender.
The exhibitors paraded around the ring a few more times. When they lined up at the end, Kristi managed to set the steer up and lift his head to show off his beautiful confirmation. She was smiling confidently at the judge, holding perfectly still when she felt something warm wrap around her tiny wrist. She glanced over and was horrified to find that Bullet had lolled his long tongue out and laced it around her arm. She dropped her show stick and tried to unwind it from her wrist.
By that time, the audience was stifling back their laughter, or trying to. She had lost her composure and was so angry she was ready to butcher him herself. But when the judging was over, despite everything, Bullet had placed high enough to make the sale. She got enough money to pay down on her show animal for the next year. She wasn’t sure what it would be, just anything but a steer.