Lunchbox, Blackie bid farewell to Fort Worth Zoo, and to their teen groomers

Posted Sunday, Jun. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Lunchbox and Blackie will depart the Fort Worth Zoo in style, thanks to two groups of high school kids who’ve been grooming the award-winning steers since April.

Both European crossbred, the cattle needed a little help keeping show-quality style while at the zoo, so an east Fort Worth 4H group and the Arlington Heights High School FFA lent helping hands.

“Zookeepers don’t know how to groom show cattle,” disclosed Kellie Hudson, adviser of the 4H group. “And both of these are long-haired steers. In the summer, they melt.”

Alexis Wilson, the zoo’s spokeswoman, explained that while all of its animals are well cared for, they’re not kept in “show-quality” condition. The zoo had sheltered previous winners, but this was the first time students provided care.

Lunchbox, crowned the junior grand champion steer at the Fort Worth Stock Show in February, is described as a “big teddy bear” by Hudson.

Blackie, however, needed sedation. The reserve champion steer apparently has had enough grooming to last a lifetime and wanted no part of the washing, brushing and clipping, she said.

“He kicks and doesn’t like males,” Hudson went on. “He will charge them.”

Saturday was the last grooming visit from the students, who began weekly visits in April.

Next week Lunchbox and Blackie will head to a private ranch since the zoo doesn’t have space to keep them long term.

“When they leave us, they’ll be turned out to pasture. They will not be bathed and clipped,” Wilson said. “They’re going to get dirty and get in mud.”

Wilson said having the students help has been a win-win for everyone, with visitors seeing students in action and watching the step-by-step process of caring for the animals, and the volunteer groomers getting to interact with zookeepers and learn what their jobs entail.

Going behind the scenes was something Skye Segovia, 18, had been wanting to do for years. The Fort Worth 4H member said her family had zoo memberships when she was small and visited the park frequently.

“Working with the animals and getting to meet the zookeepers was kind of a childhood dream,” Segovia said.

Home-schooled, Segovia graduated in May and plans to attend Texas A&M University to major in chemical engineering. She has been involved in 4H for five years but, like the others in her group, didn’t have access to farm animals.

There were times she envied friends who have small farm animals such as goats, but her back yard is too small to house anything more than her dog, she said.

“Now my friends say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you got to play with a show steer,’” Segovia said.

“Playing” is not quite the word Skye would use. That word would describe her hobbies, which includes reading novels or playing the piano and violin.

Grooming the steers is hard work, she said.

The large animals stepped on toes. Segovia got hit in the face with dirty wash water while hosing them down. And she had to use her hands as a scrubber when brushes were not available.

“Oh great, now I smell like a cow,” the teenager said of what she thought after her first grooming stint.

Saturday was no different. She said Lunchbox was coated with two weeks of muck.

“I got dirt under my nails today. He was pretty grimy, she said. “But he looked like a grand champion steer when we were done with him.”

Cody Davenport and Linsey Fowler, FFA advisers at Arlington Heights High School, would alternate trips to the zoo with the 4H group.

Davenport said his students transported winning steers to the zoo after the Stock Show in recent years but they had not helped with the care.

“This has allowed them to see what a quality animal is, and what a winning animal is,” Davenport said.

The students also fielded questions from the crowd, which helped with public speaking skills, he said.

“They got exposure to something they have never really had,” he said. “And they got to see what a zookeeper does, which is more than just putting an animal on display.”

Susan McFarland, 817-390-7547 Twitter: @susanmcfarland1

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