Elvis settled in remarkably well, given that I've never had a steer before. An intensely social creature, he reminds me a bit of Shrek: All he wants, besides grass, is love and attention, yet everyone flees at his approach. Which is understandable. Whenever someone opens the gate, no matter where in the pasture Elvis is, he comes thundering down the slope toward his visitor.
It's a true test of nerves. Elvis weighs nearly 2,300 pounds: It isn't easy for him to slow or stop. He leaves skid marks. I've taught him to "stay" (more or less) when I approach, but once or twice he's gotten overexcited, swung his huge head, and sent me sprawling. He shows remorse, leaning over to lick me with his enormous, drooly tongue, like a two-story Newfoundland.
I was surprised at my own considerable affection for him. We had some sweetly peaceful moments, with me scratching his side while he bellowed softly. When I came out in the morning, he was always waiting for me, and same thing just before dusk, when I made my final rounds. Sometimes he would put his gargantuan head on my shoulder and drool great globs on my shirt, or lower his nose nearly to the ground so that I could scratch his massive head. His sweet spot is right on the top of it, and a few scratches calm him instantly. I never imagined that I could love a steer.
Still, Annie DiLeo, my farm helper, worried Elvis was lonely. I shared her concern. Elvis had spent his whole life with a herd of dairy cows, and now he was alone in the paddock behind the big barn, watching for me or Annie or staring mournfully at the other animals.
Several times a day, he came up to the pasture gate—now electrified like a state prison's—to get closer to the donkeys and the sheep. Except for the baby donkey Jesus, who was willing to check Elvis out from the other side of the fence, they would all quickly scuttle as far away as they could get.
And as fond as I was of Elvis, I didn't really want him strolling around the farm trying to make friends. He could (and did) walk through any unelectrified fence I had, practically without noticing. He would wreak havoc if he wandered into the hamlet near my farm. Elvis would think nothing of putting his head through a kitchen window if he smelled something good to eat. And he was more than a match for the muscle cars and juiced-up pickups that roared around my farm. Elvis was lacking in social graces. While getting scratched, he might suddenly drop an enormous cowpie that landed like a giant boulder on the ground. Or unleash a prodigious whiz that trickled down to the road. He didn't eat hay so much as inhale entire bales.
He didn't really know how to play well with animals of normal size. A few times, I'd tried bringing the donkeys and the sheep into the paddock with him. He appeared delighted to have company, but when he galloped into their midst, the sheep fled and the donkeys hid behind trees. He looked disappointed.
Sometimes I would hear Elvis' lowing early in the morning or late at night, and it seemed as though he were calling out to something. When I went out to see, he came skidding down the hill, as I dove out of the way.
A few months ago, I got a telephone call from Annie's best friend, Nicki. She and her husband owned a beautiful farm just outside the hamlet, where her small herd of cows and horses were fed the best hay and grain and sheltered in warm, spotless barns.
Now Nicki's husband was being transferred, and they had to move. Amid the chaos and tears, she was frantic to find good homes for her animals, particularly her favorite cow, Luna, a brown and white mixed-breed 3-year-old. Nicki didn't want to send Luna to a dairy farm. She wanted her to live where she could graze freely and continue to get special grain treats, and where some idiot would feed her forever. Naturally, I agreed.