Bert and Ernie were just steers. They were big, old, lazy, pampered show steers, but dang it they made me cry. No, I did not become a blubbering mess and I don’t think many if anybody saw me, but I must admit that I got choked up and my eyes got teary on the last day of the fair, over two stupid steers. I am the Dad and I am supposed to be tougher than that.
Bert and Ernie had been fixtures in our daily routines for the past eight months. Bert was the show steer that we bought and Ernie was his lovable, ornery, bumbling sidekick. Tatum had made a vow to be competitive the year before and hence the purchase of Bert, while Ernie, the humble calf out of one of our cows, was there because you can’t feed just one steer.
We had them halter broke by the end of Christmas Break, a first for us. This milestone was followed by months and months of special attention. Each morning we would catch them, put out feed and then tie them in their own little pen complete with cedar fiber and fans. Tatum spend more time with them and worked harder with them than any beef project she had ever taken.
They made the trip to two spring shows, I know that is not a lot for some of you but it was two more spring shows than we had ever shown beef in before. While our placings were mixed our results were exactly what we had hoped for. Tatum had two seasoned steers who would not be spooked or surprised by anything at the county fair.
This summer, Tatum was up early almost every morning feeding, leading and rinsing steers before tying them out in their special pen. On the days, she was busy Jennifer and I took over with their daily spa treatment, the only thing that changed for the steer was a lack of detail and the music station on the radio. The steers responded by growing into the two best steers our family had ever raised and our expectations for the county fair grew and exceed those of the past thirteen fairs. Not only would Tatum be competitive, she might have a good chance at leading the champion steer.
While our anticipation grew so did our anxiety about the ultimate end of the fair. It might surprise you that a family as experienced as ours would be feeling that kind of dread about the last day of the fair. Sure, there had been other market animals along the way. Isaac’s first Southdown, Rambo, had been extremely hard to turn loose in the pen to be shipped. Tatum’s whethers Fuzzy and Wuzzy from last year had put a lump in my throat, but I knew deep down that Bert and Ernie would be even tougher to say goodbye to.
Don’t get me wrong, Tatum knew the end and understood what raising and showing a market animal meant. That did not make it any easier and tears started down her cheeks when the truck started to back into the loading dock. I am not sure what upset me more, Tatum sad or the idea of putting animals who had been such a part of our lives on a truck to the packing plant. In any case, it was extremely tough.
Tatum was not the only one with tears rolling down her cheeks. I saw Dad’s with dark glasses but one sight really got me. I did pretty well holding it all in until I saw the exhibitor of the Champion steer, a 4-Her exhibiting in her last fair but more importantly one of Tatum’s oldest and closest 4-H friends. She and Tatum were sitting in her empty stall with their arms around each other, trying to console each other. I am not going to lie or sugar coat it, I could not hold my emotions back. I tried to hide it by pulling my hat down and working harder at tearing down the stall but most importantly not making eye contact with anyone. I know that this is hard for those who are not involved in animal agriculture to understand, but at that very difficult moment I do not think I have ever been prouder of Tatum or her friend Shay.
The way our world is it is not easy to raise caring, compassionate adults but that moment was the very proof that we had done just that. Those two young ladies had poured their hearts and souls into their projects, spending countless hours with them and taking care of their steers every need. It is only natural to get attached and most definitely a healthy emotion. In the end, it was worth it and we will do it again but right now I guess it is OK to hide shed a tear over a couple of steers.