"Big Red," the 1,570-pound, grand champion steer who has spent almost 10 years lazing about the National Park Service's Oxon Hill Farm, as gentle and admired as Ferdinand the Bull, leaves today for retirement on a research ranch out West.
The polled (naturally hornless), Hereford steer who won cattledom's top prize in 1968 and originally was destined for a place on Hilton Hotel menus, will be paraded at cattle shows around the country this fall - before going to his final grazing ground - as the longest living chamption steer in history.
Most champion steers are slaughtered soon after winning their ribbons and those which aren't rarely live to be more than 8-year-old, according to cattlemen.
The huge, gentle red steer and dozens of other animals at the demonstration farm beside the Beltway are seen and petted by more than 100,000 visitors a year, attentions which often take a toll of more fragile animals but which "Big Red" apparently enjoyed. "Big Red was a favorite, and I wouldn't give you a bum steer," said Park Service spokesman George Berklacy.
In order that the Oxon Hill catalog of farm animals may be complete, a replacement for Big Red already has been found. Berklacy said, an as yet unnamed steer raised by E. Brooke Lee, father of Maryland Gov. Blair Lee III, and donated by the Damascus chapter of the Future Farmers of America. It is due to arrive next week.
"Big Red", when he dies - of natural causes, will be stuffed and mounted and placed in the American Polled Hereford hall of fame in Kansas City, which honors pioneer cattle breeders, according to Hereford association president Orville Sweet. One of nation's few animal hall of fame, said Sweet, "It's like the baseball and football halls of fame. There's also one for quarter horses and one for greyhounded."
"Big Red" was born in 1966 and bought for $46 when he was one day old by a 17-year-old Nebraska youth to raise as a 4-H Club project. When he won grand prize at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, the first naturally hornless steer ever to win top honors, he weighed 1,062 pounds and was bought by the Hilton Hotel chain for $10.35 a pound, according to Sweet. The youth used to proceeds to attend college and as a down payment on a cattle ranch. During his petted and pampered stay at Oxon Hill he put on an additional 500 pounds.
The Hilton chain changed its mind about cutting up and serving "Big Red," and instead donated him to the District's Junior Village, the run-down and now closed home for Washington's neglected and abandoned children. Junior Village had no place to keep a steer, however, and "Big Red" was transferred to the newly opened Oxon Hill Children's Farm, as it was then called, to become its largest animal and attraction.