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Crazy Steer Stopped the Tears

by Bev Berens

Published: Friday, January 11, 2019

Telling Your Story

There was this one 4-H steer. It was near the end of my 4-H career and I was reasonably confident and skilled in halter breaking by this time.

Except for this guy. I don't remember what I named him, possibly Come-Back-Here as the official title, but more likely the barn name was less whimsical and more, let's say "direct."

He was a beast from day one. No amount of gentling, soft talking and long sessions with a brush and comb with amazing back scratches would get him to accept me. On the flip side, no amount of aggressive training strategy (in other words, long walks tied behind a tractor) would break this fellow's spirit.

I tell you what, he almost broke my spirit, but I did admire his stubbornness This was back in the day before we tagged multiple animals that might make it to the fair. You tagged one and got what you got. At least at our house. There was no choice. I had to be all in or all out if I was going to get to the fair with an animal. And since fair week was the best week of the year in those days, I wasn't going to miss out. All in was where I had to be.

We eventually progressed from walking inside the barn to trying a walk outside. I wasn't one of those kids who always showed up with a half-broke steer who started the project a couple weeks before fair. I took pride in having a well-trained animal, even if I didn't have a champion to lead. It was a matter of pride in doing what you could with what you had. And so, I learned and did just that. We never showed up with underweight, rough looking animals, but learned that we would usually land somewhere in the middle of the pack. And that was OK.

Every day for months was a muster of courage to engage in another round with him. He dragged and stomped me. He would bolt for no reason and I would finally let the halter go. One day he made a couple of trips around a tree and I got tangled up in the process, finding myself tied to a tree by a steer. When he got away, I knew he would eventually end up at the feed pile. Then I could lock his sorry self in the barn and catch him. He broke my toe stomping on it and I had surgery years later to remove the giant bump on my littlest toe. I could relive my hatred for that steer years later. How pleasant.

We made it to the fair, through the wash racks and stalled. The initial shock of a new environment took a little wind out of his sails for the first day. Too bad it didn't last.

On show day, he snapped and broke my brand-new show halter that was under the tree last Christmas. Someone loaned me one for the rest of show day, bless their heart. I left the ring during showmanship. The fight was wearing me out and getting no ribbon was better than a white ribbon—the "trophy for everyone" version of competition during the '70s. It was the recognition that said, "Hey, you are here, but you did an awful job. Work harder next year."

I never worked so hard on a steer in my life. I wasn't about to have a judge tell me start sooner and work harder next year. Sometimes, you happen to pick the one that should have worn an ear tag that read Jailbait.

When I left the showmanship ring, a young man who was my biggest high school crush, took the steer and led him back to the stall. I tried to hide the tears of disappointment, but a few of them leaked out anyway. More humiliation. He was at least strong enough to out-muscle my foe and for that I was grateful.

Tears are inevitable on sale and haul-out days. I was giddy. Gone was my nemesis. Gone was the thorn in my side. The tears over this animal happened during the previous 12 months. There were no more tears for this guy, or subsequent farewell days at the fair. He had left his mark.

Occasionally, life hands you a beast like the one I tried to turn into a docile 4-H animal. No matter how hard you work, try, calculate, sweat and cry, you are not going to win. Once in a while, you just have to walk away. I hope you don't have to tangle with those kinds of beasts in 2019!

Bev Berens is a mom to 4-H and FFA members in Michigan. Do you have a story to share? Email her at

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