Let me set the scene for you: Fort Worth Stock Show, 2018. I was 14: old enough to drive in the state of South Dakota, and certainly old enough to keep up with my personal belongings in a small cattle barn in Texas. Or so one would think.
All of our combs were, quite literally, on their last tooth, something that mildly irritated Dad and me at home, but never enough for us to make the colossal effort to get online and order new ones. So with the Sullivan’s trailer right around the corner, I grabbed a 20 dollar bill out of my bag and moseyed over to browse through their selection. Now, it’s important to note one thing in particular about this story: I used my own money. Mom and Dad are always very generous, and had I asked, they certainly would’ve bought it, but I didn’t feel quite as guilty spending an extra $5 of my money on the purple SmartComb with the fancy handle as I would’ve felt spending their money. So I bought my special fancy comb, pocketed the change for a mid-afternoon Stubby’s cinnamon roll(stock show kids, y’all know what I’m talking about), headed back to the stall, and reverently placed the comb on the top shelf of the showbox. After blowing out my heifer later that evening, I absentmindedly stuck the comb in the back pocket of my Stetsons and headed to the ring to watch some of the show.
Now, before I go any further, I should probably mention that I have quite the reputation for losing or breaking everything, particularly the things I really don’t want to lose or break. I’ve snapped or birds-nested more fishing poles in one day than most people have in one decade, something that’s a little bit of a sore spot with Dad. When I was 8 I found a whole sand dollar at the beach, and then proceeded to accidentally shatter it into pieces by dramatically flinging myself onto my bed where I had set it down just a few minutes before. The reason many of our combs are in rough shape is because of my tendency to drop and then stumble over them with my size 12 feet. After many of these incidents occur, I’m given everyone’s favorite “responsibility” lecture, one that I can almost recite by heart. So when I bought that comb, I knew I would be required to put in a little extra effort if I wanted to take good care of it.
Unfortunately, I let my guard down, and therefore let myself down as well. By the time I made it back to the stall after watching the show, I had an empty back pocket. I was more upset than usual at my carelessness, and looking back, I think I know why: when I bought that comb, I made a personal investment. It wasn’t Mom or Dad’s money that I threw away; it was my own, and that strikes a little bit of a different chord. I felt like that circumstance mattered more than any other time that I’d lost or broken something. I believe that the same principles apply to our livestock projects: we’re making a significant personal investment into our animals, and that makes them rise in importance above the other things we might feel a responsibility towards. It’s why our hearts drop when we get home from school and see a gate swung wide open and find a heifer with her nose in a half-empty feed sack. It’s why we can barely wake up in time for school, but we’ll spring out of bed at 1AM if an old show heifer is calving. Basically, it’s why we care at all. Because this isn’t something we just do for grins (although there’s plenty of those)… we do it because we feel a responsibility towards the animals who depend on us.
Fortunately, I’ve come to appreciate the virtue of responsibility quite a bit more since the Fort Worth comb incident. I’ve come to understand, through a series of failures and successes, why it holds such an important place in the livestock industry, as well as in our everyday lives. Responsibility isn’t something that disappears as we get older; in fact, it becomes even more critical. As livestock exhibitors, we have the unique opportunity to practice this quality on a daily basis. While other kids may have to clean the fish bowl once a week, we’re out in the barn early in the morning and late at night every day of the week, mixing feed, cleaning pens, working hair, and filling water tubs. If that isn’t responsibility, then I don’t know what is. It can be easy to lose sight of the “why” behind our actions at times, but it’s something we should all keep in mind. Our hogs, goats, lambs, steers, and heifers are more than a fish bowl we clean once a week. They’re a personal investment, not just of time and money, but of heart, and they’ve taught us the lesson of responsibility well.