Brittain kids “steering” toward bright futures

Between them, siblings Sophie and Springer Brittain have won about $25,000 and an array of belt buckles, medals, and trophies from steer show competitions. They’ll tell you, however, that it’s all more for the learning experience than the money.

Raising steers is time consuming and expensive, says their mother, Cindy Brittain, who grew up raising steers. “It’s not a money-making activity.” Instead, the Brittains use the hobby as an opportunity to spend quality time together as a family, take on leadership roles, and work as a team.

“It’s like a science experiment,” seventeen-year-old Springer says. “You have to study your feed. If [the steer] gets too fat, give it more fiber. Or it may need extra supplements. . . . Sometimes we may have six or seven different kinds of feeds, and we’re mixing it because this one [steer] isn’t fat enough, or maybe it’s too fat.”

Temperature is another important factor to consider, fourteen-year-old Sophie says, “especially when you’re taking a steer to Fort Worth. Fort Worth is a hair show, so we may work on one steer more and keep it under fans that have misters [during the rearing process] so that it grows more hair.”

In addition, Sophie and Springer take each steer’s demeanor into account. Ornery steers may take more time to train than calmer, bottle-fed ones, explains Springer, recalling how, during the weaning process, his 1,380-pound prize-winning steer Trouble managed to run his uncle out of the pen, flip him over a gate, and drill him into fences.

“He was so much trouble to [my uncle],” Springer recalls, “but whenever I got him, [Trouble] was a little angel.”

“You’ve got to teach them that you’re not going to harm them,” Sophie adds. “But they’ve got to know you’re in charge.”

Depending on a steer’s temperament, the acclimation and training process takes anywhere from a week to a month, Springer says, and involves everything from feeding and brushing to filling up a skittish steer’s stall with balloons to desensitize it to loud noises. “Sometimes you’ve got to give them tough love,” Springer says. “Once they realize the balloons won’t hurt them, they stop kicking when they hear a loud noise.”

Results of steer show competitions depend on a mixture of luck and diligent preparation. “The judges are looking for muscle tone, stability, and a smooth walk,” Springer says. “Basically, they’re looking for the most marketable steers that will produce the best quality meat.” A smooth walk often indicates that the animal has easy access to food and water and will likely produce tender meat. Judges frown on crippled steers, reasoning that if they can’t walk, they can’t attain the nutrients they need to become tasty steaks.

“It’s important to know the weak points and present the animal the best you can so that it doesn’t look like it has weaknesses,” Springer says. For example, since Trouble had a swayback, Springer found himself taking extra precautions, nudging the animal to keep the steer standing as straight as possible. This technique worked, winning Springer the Breed Champion title and $10,000 at the State Fair in Dallas when he was in fifth grade.

Despite the occasional awards, raising steers isn’t the most glamorous hobby, says Sophie, whose daily chores include poop scooping, sweeping, training, feeding, and washing. However, the rewards are well worth the added responsibility.

“It’s a different kind of kid we’re raising,” Cindy says. At the livestock shows, “there are no computers, there are no iPads. They’re learning how to work, work together, and how to help other people.”

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