I've had a lifelong love affair with Angus cattle, despite an inauspicious beginning to my cattle career.
Near the end of my freshman year in high school I got a $350 loan from a kind-hearted banker and bought the meanest Angus steer that ever lived. He was also a chronic bloater. My ag teacher picked him out for me, and that's the last time I ever let anyone buy cattle for me.
I named my steer Abe, built a nice pen and kept it spotless. I had to feed Abe every morning by 6 because that's when he wanted his breakfast, and if I was one minute late he'd bawl and wake up my lazy neighbors. I invested $300 total in Abe and spent more than 350 hours cleaning his pen, feeding, grooming and trying to gentle him.
Despite his angry nature I loved that steer, and cried when they hauled him away. Interestingly, the only time I ever won showmanship at any fair was with crazy Abe.
In the final analysis I lost $13.50, thus establishing the pattern for the rest of my checkered cattleman career.
Despite the heavy financial loss, I couldn't wait until my sophomore year to do it all over again. I'd learned a thing or two the first time, so I wasn't going to let my teacher pick a steer for me at the auction barn. I did my research, contacted Mr. Dow of the Superior Angus Ranch and immediately fell in love with an Angus steer I named Abner.
He looked just like the poster of the ideal steer the Angus Assoc. sent me. Abner was the Grand Champion county fair steer and overnight I became the richest kid in my class. The next year I went back to the same place and bought a steer I named George after my grandfather, which I'm sure touched him deeply.
George was also a county fair Grand Champion, and the minute a photo of George appeared in the county newspaper mentioning how much money I got per pound, I soon became my parents' loan shark. I also bought four registered Angus heifers and a bull because I'd fallen in love with showing cattle and going to fairs.
I wanted my own mini-show string, so I joined the American Angus Assoc., framed my membership certificate and covered all the walls in my room with pictures of show-ring winners. The next summer I went to five fairs, including the state fair.
Due to my age, at two of the fairs I had to be chaperoned by a local FFA advisor and my grandpa accompanied me to the others. He loved the show road as much as I did, and I put him to work with a pitchfork picking up the hot ones … if you know what I mean.
I showed my cattle in both the junior and senior divisions and usually won in the junior division classes, often because I had the only animal. But when I went up against the large purebred breeders, my bull stood dead last every time. This was due to a lack of conformation and conditioning – and because the pros cheated.
They heated the backs of their animals with a heat lamp and rolled them with a rolling pin to make them flatter, dyed their cattle jet-black, fudged on their birthdays and injected air to make their animals appear more muscular or their udders fuller. I know all this because an old herdsmen took pity on me and taught me the tricks of the trade.
We were all like one big family until the last fair of the summer when some idiot got into the show barn one night and untied every single animal. I found two of my heifers in the swine barn, another cavorting with Holsteins and caught my bull with a big smile on his face breeding several of the open heifers belonging to the professionals.
When they realized their prize-winning heifers might be infected with sperm from my inferior bull they besieged the fair veterinarian in search of "morning after" pills.
I quit the registered business shortly thereafter, the Angus Assoc. quit sending me the Angus Journal and to this day some Angus breeders blame me for any genetic defects that might show up in the breed.
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