No one that I personally know likes to receive advice from me. Not that I deprive them of the opportunity anyway. I’m generous to a fault, but I’ve learned not to expect to be thanked for my brilliance. The crazy thing, though, is that people who don’t really want my advice are asking for it all the time. They see that Dave and I live on a small farm, doing a little of this and that, so they’ll ask my opinion about starting into something themselves. To be fair, most people honestly think they want to know what I have to say. But they don’t. Plain and simple. It’s the human condition – we humans are going to do what we are going to do. We just like to find advice that gives us permission to do it. That’s why I’m always asking people which kind of chocolate is best for weight loss.

Coleman michele
Michele and her husband, Dave, live in southern Idaho where they boast an extensive collection of...

Still, I try to do my best to warn people about the realities of country living versus the little-red-barn, paint-by-number version. For some reason, I feel a particular responsibility to be the warning angel of the 4-H sector. Take, for example, steers. Enthusiastic parents always seem to corner me after the county fair, “Hey, we’ve been thinking about having our 8-year-old start a 4-H project next year, and we’re thinking of doing a steer.” I’d rather have them ask me for my Social Security number, I really would. In fact, I have to bite my tongue or I’ll yell right in their excited faces, “Run for the hills! Get out while you can! Don’t look back!”

It’s not that I don’t want people to have 4-H steers. It’s a great program. Good for kids, good for families. But how much do you tell someone who’s new to the madness? Is it better to inform and terrify or leave the innocent in their innocence as long as possible? “Well, uhhh, steers are great, but maybe we should talk a little about what you’d be getting yourselves into. Do you have an hour or three?” Frankly, I have low expectations that whatever I say will affect their decision anyway.

So I’m thinking of maybe putting together a little questionnaire, something to give people to ease them into the realities of a market animal project. I plan to call it: So you want to show a steer? (Are you crazy?) Catchy title, no?

My rough outline is pretty rough, but I know how it needs to start. There are three primary questions parents must consider before ever, ever dropping $1,500 on a sweet, cuddly, knot-headed, as-like-to-kick-you-in-the-head-as-not bovine for their child.


Question 1: Do you own any livestock now? If your answer is no, go to question 2.

Question 2: Have you ever owned any livestock? If your answer is no, go to question 3.

Question 3: Have you ever had a pet? Specifically, one that does not live in a bowl, grow roots or can also be called a rock?

I am not trying to be elitist. I didn’t grow up showing steers, and I still don’t know half of what David knows. But I sincerely recommend that families who have never been responsible for another species begin with a pet, and I don’t even think a puppy is a good starting point. One friend of mine was excited to start her own little animal farm with chickens, rabbits, kittens and who knows what else, but she began with a puppy. Took her years to recover. Just keep in mind that as far as steers go, I find that the people most enthusiastic about working with them are those who have never done it (or as David just reminded me, those who are trying to sell you one).

Question 4: Do you own or have access to a stock trailer? I know a lot of people are worried about having a place to keep a steer, but that is a secondary concern to me, or I should say it’s a question people know how to worry about all on their own. See, buying a steer is kind of like having a baby. New parents can generally figure out that they need a crib and diapers, but they often forget that they’ll also need a car seat in order to get the baby home from the hospital. Likewise, many future cattle barons have visions of a steer grazing peacefully in the back pasture while completely overlooking the fact that they are going to have to haul that steer from place to place – unless they plan to ride him.

Question 5: Who is going to be in charge of training the steer? By my count, there are actually three individuals who can be in charge: your child, the steer or you. And according to the extensive research I did by asking Alexa, the average 8-year-old weighs 69.45 pounds. The average steer at a county fair weighs around 1,300 pounds. This is all to say that if you don’t jump in the corral often (as in daily), the steer is going to take the top management position.

Question 6: How much money are you willing to lose … I mean spend, so your kid can make a profit on this 4-H project? Of course, this question is open to all sorts of misinterpretation. How much the child makes is ultimately not the most important financial consideration. I like to think of showing cattle like speculating in the stock market or going to Las Vegas – as a parent, never invest more than you can afford to lose.

Question 7: How important is it to you to win? If you are competitive, then refer back to question 6 – How much money are you willing to spend? When parents tell me that winning or losing isn’t what’s important to them, I just smile.

Question 8: Do you enjoy summer? As in sleeping in, going on vacation and camping? I’m not saying you can’t still do those things and have cattle; I’m just saying you might want to hold off on the season pass to Disneyland.

Well, I need to stop here. I have about 73 more questions to go, but just making the questionnaire has been therapeutic for me. I’ve enjoyed myself so much, I might even go answer the questions myself.