By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
HALFWAY Just because you retire after a 30-year career in education doesnt mean you stop teaching.
David Bird, a Halfway rancher with a long career in the classroom in the Richland and Pine-Eagle school districts, comes out of retirement every year about this time in preparation for the Baker County Fair in Halfway.
Former students and others in this tight-knit community begin calling in December, he says. They ask: Are you going to offer the program again, Mr. Bird? Do you have room for one more?
Anybody who expresses interest and who can live with the responsibility drawn up in a cattle show contract can head out to the Bird ranch two miles east of Halfway, pick out a Hereford bull or heifer, and show it at the fair.
The adopt-an-animal program allows children who wouldnt otherwise be able to show livestock at the fair to enjoy the responsibility and the reward of fair competition.
We wash them, work them, and learn everything we need to be able to show the animal, says Justin Osborn, a ninth-grade student who has worked with Bird for three years. Sometimes its major hard work, and you have to teach the animals good manners when they dont act their nicest. They teach us how to show an animal properly.
Cassie Sullivan of Hereford, a sophomore at Burnt River High School and the states Junior Hereford Queen, thought so much of the heifer she adopted that she decided to purchase it.
Merry-Go-Round will be a breeding heifer, she said. She said she made the purchase to expand her herd.
That happens sometimes, Bird said, but generally students simply lease the animal during the time theyre working with it. Bird offers a lease rate affordable to most students $1 per year.
Its not so much the financial commitment as it is one of time and effort. This year, eight students spent about 15 hours per week at the David and Lynda Bird ranch. They arrive about 5 p.m. and often work past dark, David Bird explained, washing, rinsing and blow-drying their adopted animal, then combing, brushing and grooming it.
After they work the animals for two or three days, the roughness is gone, he said. Thats when they begin to recognize that caring for animals requires much patience and determination.
The Bird Hereford Ranch even has a mock show ring. There the Birds, together with Lyndas sister, Cheryl Thomas, give students the pointers they will need to succeed at the fair.
Not only do the three have the experience accumulated through three lifetimes of living on the ranch, but theyve got classroom credentials as well: all told, the three have 90 years classroom experience.
They learn compassion, and a lot of patience, Bird says of his charges, waiting for a handful of his students to show their animals. They dont get paid, but they have the privilege of working with some of the top cattle found anywhere.
Bird has found over the years that most of the boys select a bull, while generally girls opt for a heifer. Twelve of Birds bulls are selected each year for the Oregon Hereford Select Sale, held each March in Hermiston.
Steers are often sold to children to show in future competitions, he said.
And just because the fairs over doesnt mean the Birds wont see their students.
Students often come back and ask, Hows my cow doing? Bird said. Its our goal that students learn more about cattle, but they can have fun at the same time.