By Will Cradduck, Fort Griffin Herd Manager
This is a story about one of the steers in our Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd at Fort Griffin State Historic Site. I call him Old Paint because he’s an old, paint-colored steer, and he reminds me of the old song, “Ridin’ Old Paint and Leadin’ Old Dan.”
One day a couple of years ago, I was about to load Old Paint into a trailer to take him to Hardin-Simmons University’s (HSU) Western Heritage Day to show him off to all the kids and tell them about longhorn cattle and why they are important to Texas. Old Paint is a cranky old steer, but generally well behaved and really pretty to look at, so I picked him out to go with me.
The wind was blowing like it does in Texas in the spring—somewhere between really hard and hurricane force. I had Old Paint headed down an alley in the pens toward the stock trailer, when the trailer gate blew almost completely closed. Well, being a fairly experienced cowman, I knew the steer wasn’t going to get in the trailer with the gate shut, so I climbed out of the alley so I could walk around Old Paint and open the gate and tie it back good. Old Paint kept walking toward the trailer, and I looked over at him just in time to see him take his right horn, reach over and hook the gate, swing it wide open, and get in the trailer! He had turned his head around to the left until that right horn was in front of him and a little to the left, walked up in the corner of the alley, and caught the almost-closed trailer gate by the frame and opened it.
I learned that day that Old Paint really liked to ride in the trailer and go places, and he wasn’t about to let the gate and windy day delay his fun. We went to HSU the next day and had a full day of hollerin’ kids, and he did pretty well for a cranky old steer.
I have since learned that this is not unique behavior among our steers. They are prone to using their horns for lots of odd things besides protection—from handy backscratchers to opening gates. Also, if you leave the trailer gate open and nobody (steer or cowboy) is around to crowd them, they will hop in the trailer just to have a look and a sniff, and stand in there until somebody runs them out!
These Texas Longhorn cattle are really intelligent and unique animals to be around. They teach me something new almost every day. Y’all come out to Fort Griffin to visit and see Old Paint and his buddies, part of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd.
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