An aging Brahman steer keeps buying time on the ranch by serving as a babysitter for fresh cattle. Plus, he’s a pretty good-looking pasture ornament.
I’m fine with the idea of eating something I’ve raised. I’m even okay with naming said-animal (generally a steer), giving him a good life and diet, and then enjoying him and sharing him with friends and family when he’s the correct weight and age to process. Shoot, I sold a goat just this morning to a family who promised me he’d be the main attraction at a niece’s quinceanera, if you catch my drift. I love my animals, but I’m fine with this pattern and appreciate the opportunity to grow my own food.
But once in a while, it seems like a steer comes along that just gives you excuses to postpone that goodbye. And for me, that animal is Newt.
Newt is a grey Brahman-cross steer that I swapped for with a cowman friend of mine. I’m not exactly certain what I had to give up for to acquire such a beast, but I’m thinking that I got him via a few bales of hay and a war bridle. He was just between the age of bottle calf and weaned, and I happened to have a Jersey nurse cow that I wanted to keep in milk. I grafted him and his floppy ears right onto her, and I was glad to have another calf around to keep her pulled down. I kept telling myself, “Oh, he’s dang sure going to be worth something, with that pretty blue coat and those doe eyes. I’ll just keep him a little longer and then send him down the road.”
Well, Newt grew and became more and more gentle as time went on, and instead of going down the road, he found a job as our babysitter. See, we have a 2-year-old cutting horse business, and we generally have a lot of turnover with cattle we work. It is so helpful to keep a cow or two (we call them “babysitters”) that is gentle and knows what needs to be done. They help train new heifers we work how to stand in the middle of the arena. Newt was a big help at this stage, both in training the fresh cattle how to find the center of our pen, and to follow him confidently through the gates and lanes on our place. I was happy about this, as I had grown fond of this steer I could walk up and pet on the nose. Newt was earning his keep. However, when a babysitter gets too large, he can be a little intimidating and overwhelming to some of the sensitive colts we ride, so as one would guess, Newt eventually found himself out of a job.
During this time, we moved to a couple different locations, and I considered hauling him to the sale barn on several occasions. However, Newt always found himself, stationary and happy, in one of our fields. I told myself, “That’s okay—we’ll just finish him out on grain, and he’ll make excellent steaks. His beautiful blue hide can be a rug on my floor, and his horns will look awesome over our barn.” Getting Newt as fat as possible became my new mission. But for one reason or another, my husband and I just kept coming up with excuses as to why we couldn’t take him in that week.
In the meantime, my good ol’ steer learned how to jump fences. Newt is a rolling stone, gathering no moss and eating whatever he pleases. My neighbors all like him, and don’t mind that he visits. They tell me, “he never stays long and always finds his way home before dark without ruining any fences.” And to be honest, he is now too large and a little too old to turn into prime cuts of beef, although Luke and I both know he would make excellent grass-fed burgers. His beautiful blue coat is now more of a soft, light gray, and his horns have grown to buffalo-sized proportions. It should be time to take him in. We looked at him out in our field the other day, living with a few of our other mother cows, and discussed his future, once again.
“Gosh, he sure looks good and fat,” Luke said. “What do you think he weighs?”
“He does look good,” I replied. “And he weighs A LOT! We just have so much grass this year. It would be a shame to not graze it down.”
“Yeah. He’s big, but he does make a pretty good babysitter, when he stays home,” Luke mused. “We’ll wait a little longer, and then haul him in.”
And that was that. Newt is still here, wearing our iron and waiting for me to go out and scratch him on his nose as he towers over me. He’s not doing us any good and he really should be put to use, or sold, or eaten, or something.
But chances are, if you come over to my place and don’t see his big ol’ horns and doe eyes, never fear. He hasn’t been hauled to the butcher, and he’s certainly not packaged up in our freezer. He’s just out, rambling around the neighborhood, and will be back before dark, no doubt.