Author Christy Lee says raising market animals develops a special kind of strength in children.
Author Christy Lee says raising market animals develops a special kind of strength in children.

The truck driver took the halter from our 10-year-old son, Waylon, as he left the county fair sale ring this week. The gentleman was ready to lead Luther the steer to the trailer.

Our 7-year-old son, Nolan, stopped the driver. "Could I please lead him onto the trailer?"

He did, without a tear (at that moment). Nolan exited the trailer and looked up at my husband.

"He's going to be fine, dad. He's with his friends from the fair."

I had told myself that after last year and Waylon’s first 4-H steer, Lightning, every year after would be a bit easier. The boys wouldn’t get as attached, and sale day would become more routine.

Luther was a special steer from the beginning; a teddy bear that did as the boys asked. He was a joy. Even though he always, without fail, dumped his feed pan into the shavings and finished eating in that mess. But we all got a bit attached ... Nolan probably the most.

The morning of the sale, he had many questions.

“Will Luther meet Lightning in heaven?”

“Will we see Luther when we get to heaven?”

“Are there halters in heaven so we can lead them around?”

And he came to many realizations, wise beyond his 7 short years on earth. “Luther is helping so many people by going on to feed them. That’s why he was born – to help lots of people.”

No doubt, some outside of the agricultural world may see the act of raising market animals as more than a child should bear. Getting attached to a living creature, only to see it go on to serve a greater purpose.

But as my brilliant friend, Jenni, said, “Tough days with tough lessons make tough kids who can handle tough things.”

And I am certain that raising market animals does just that for our children – just as it has done for our generation and the generations before.

Chances are, our kids will experience the heartbreak of losing that first boyfriend or girlfriend. Classmates and friends may move away.

And, as tough as it is to accept, they’ll likely deal with aging parents. The stress of making the right choices – the grief of saying “goodbye.”

I’m not saying selling a steer is on the same level as losing a family member. But at this young age, being able to make the tough choices, say farewell with strength, and part ways with grace and dignity will serve them in life, and in ways we probably can’t even fathom.

After Luther pulled away in the trailer, I held Nolan in my lap, tears streaming down his face.

“I’m going to miss Luther. He was a good steer.”

Me too, buddy. Me too.

Then, he and Waylon dried the tears and loaded the tack and their heifer, Sofia, into the trailer. On our drive home, the sadness faded. They laughed about the fun times they shared with their friends at the fair, the water fights, the demolition derby.

And they began their plans on what will fill our show barn next year.

Livestock kids are strong. They’re resilient.

They sure make this show mom proud.