Just like thousands of other animals brought to the Fort Worth Stock Show, Kendyll Williams and her family had a plan for her steer, Oatmeal.
Though she was especially close to Oatmeal, who was born blind and not given much chance to succeed as a show steer, the hope was for him to make the Sale of Champions, which features the best of the steers, barrows, lambs and goats at the Stock Show.
“The sale was the ultimate goal,” said Kendyll’s father, Lyle Williams. “But if he didn’t make the sale, we were going to let her keep him around.”
After finishing fourth in the European crossbred class in the junior steer show, Oatmeal advanced to Saturday’s Sale of Champions and was sold for about $8,000 to a group of Fort Worth businesswomen, called Women Steering Business.
Oatmeal was transported — along with dozens of other steers — to a meat processing plant in Corpus Christi after the sale. He is being fattened in a feedlot and will eventually be processed.
The Star-Telegram published a story last weekend about Oatmeal, and Kendyll, the 13-year-old girl who raised him. Many readers commented that they were outraged that the steer had been sold for slaughter. Others showed their support to Kendyll, who is saving money made from selling her steers to go to college.
That poor steer. He trusted humans his entire life, and now, trustingly, he will go with them and be led to his death. How very sad.
I think that people should be applauding this young lady for the time and energy she put into raising this animal. .... Kendyll deserves a huge pat on the back! I would be one proud mom if she were my child!!!!
Since the first story ran, a Facebook page — Oatmeal Blind Steer — has been created and pro-livestock advocates are trying to save the steer from entering the food chain. Animal sanctuaries have offered to take the steer.
A woman who operates a farm animal sanctuary in Angleton, southwest of Houston, has made it her mission to save Oatmeal.
If we can rescue Oatmeal it would be such a great story for Valentine’s.
Renee King-Sonnen, operator of a farm animal sanctuary
“We’re trying to make Oatmeal’s life matter,” said Renee King-Sonnen, who runs the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary: From Cattle Ranch to Vegan Farm Animal Sanctuary.
King-Sonnen said she and her family used to be in the cattle industry, but opened her sanctuary about a year ago.
“We’re not opposed to people in the industry but sometimes there’s one animal that stands out above the rest and Oatmeal stands out,” she said. “If we can rescue Oatmeal it would be such a great story for Valentine’s.”
The Stock Show contracts with various meat-packing plants to process the livestock sold in the Sale of Champions, said Matt Brockman, publicity manager for the Stock Show.
He said Oatmeal will be processed along with almost 400 other steers.
A family business
The steer was raised by Kendyll after it was given to her by family friends in Georgia.
Kendyll’s father explained that the calf was born with cataracts and that the friends who owned him didn’t think he had a future as a show animal.
Kendyll thought otherwise.
“She had wanted to buy him because she felt sorry for him, but they gave him to her,” Williams said in an telephone interview Tuesday from the family’s farm in Huntsville.
Oatmeal was born in September 2014 to a heifer that Williams had helped groom when she was named grand champion at the Georgia State Fair about six years ago.
Last February, when he was about 5 months old, Oatmeal was moved to Huntsville and Kendyll went to work, breaking him and teaching him voice commands.
The sale was the ultimate goal.
Lyle Williams, father of Kendyll Williams
Kendyll has other steers that she is raising, but she was especially close to Oatmeal, named after a childhood toy.
“I’d go to his stall every day and talk to him,” Kendyll said before Saturday’s sale. “You can’t be rough with him. He doesn’t respond well to roughness. One day, it just clicked. I started gaining his trust.”
But she always knew that Oatmeal, all 964 pounds of him, was livestock, not a pet. She makes money raising such show steers, enough that will someday put her through college.
Williams acknowledges that Oatmeal was hard to let go.
“That first year when she sold one in Fort Worth, when she was 8, that was pretty rough,” Williams said. “But this was a harder deal because she spent so much time with him.”
The Trail of Tears
After being sold, Oatmeal was taken on a lonely walk and loaded into a trailer with other steers and trucked away.
Known as the Trail of Tears, the dirt-floor tunnel of the Richardson-Bass Building is where the youngsters say goodbye to their livestock. While some of the youth are stern-faced and business-like, others cry openly as they bid their steers farewell.
Such was the case with Kendyll, who hugged Oatmeal and kissed the top of his head.
But because of Oatmeal’s condition, his goodbye tugged at the heart a little harder than most.
Kendyll was concerned that Oatmeal might be hurt on his way to the trailer because of his blindness, so she asked her father to escort him.
“It was never going to be easy to let him go,” Williams said.
He said Kendyll was doing fine until she started reading some of the hateful comments posted on social media.
“She started feeling bad about herself, thinking it was all her fault,” said Williams, explaining that they wouldn’t let her look at her phone after a while.
“We decided not to respond because nothing good would come from it. I’m just dumbfounded by it all,” Williams said.
It’s sad she’s being preyed upon.
Matt Brockman, Stock Show publicity manager
Brockman said it’s a shame the way some people are treating Kendyll.
“It’s sad she’s being preyed upon,” Brockman said. “I’m glad Oatmeal wound up with the Williams family. They were a wonderful steward of that steer.”
Kendyll’s father said she is focused on her other steers, including one that is a little brother of Oatmeal. He’s named Jigsaw, has fine vision, and will be shown at the San Antonio Stock Show, which begins Thursday.
Another steer, not related to Oatmeal, will be shown at the Houston Livestock Show. “He’s named Weedeater because he’ll eat anything,” Williams said.
‘We know why they’re here’
The Sale of Champions features the top winners in the junior livestock show and this year more than $3.4 million was paid for the 292 steers, barrows, goats and lambs — out of more than 11,000 entered — that made the sale.
The grand champion steer, a European cross named Big Boy, was purchased for $210,000 by Hillwood Properties. Big Boy and the reserve grand champion were donated to the Fort Worth Zoo, where they will remain for a year.
The reserve grand champion, named Goosebumps, sold for $170,000 and was purchased by Women Steering Business, the same group that bought Oatmeal.
Becky Borbolla, who helped form the group, said the purchases they made at the Stock Show equate to a donation, not the actual ownership of livestock.
“Women Steering Business strongly supports the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo’s junior livestock show program and its role in developing and educating tomorrow’s livestock and food industry’s future leaders,” Borbolla said in an email. “We are extremely proud of the hard work and commitment from each of the six young women we supported at this year’s sale through our contributions of $232,376.”
Some of the other livestock shown also get a reprieve and end up with local high school FFA clubs. But most of the animals sold in the Sale of Champions are trucked away to meat processing plants.
“Some will be processed within days, some within 24 hours and others may be fed a little longer before being processed,” Brockman said.
292 steers, barrows, lambs and goats sold during this year’s Sale of Champions.
The steers, lambs and goats that don’t make the Sale of Champions have more options. They can be kept by their owners or sold for a price slightly above market value.
All of the barrows are sold and sent away for slaughter.
Brockman said it’s important to understand that the young men and women who raise and show the livestock “are wonderful stewards of their animals.”
He said they are taught about proper animal care and the importance of food safety.
“You can develop a bond with an animal, but at the end of the day we know why they’re here,” Brockman said. “These kids are providing a safe and nutritious source of protein.”
This article includes information from Star-Telegram archives.