Beaver and Rooster came to us from the National Park Service’s
Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Deer Lodge, Montana. The ranch was once
the headquarters of a 10-million acre cattle empire in the
1800’s. Today it is a 1,500-acre National
Historic Site operated by the National Park Service as
a working 1860’s ranch.
Beaver and Rooster were the two draft horses who pulled wagons
and other equipment at the ranch. They are half-brothers and
were raised, trained and harnessed together their entire lives.
Beaver and Rooster were immensely popular with visitors to
the ranch, who marveled at the sheer size of these two amiable
giants. (They each weigh about 2,000 pounds, twice the weight
of a normal horse.)
So when Rooster developed a severe swayback condition and
could no longer work, the National Park Service staff at Grant-Kohrs
faced a difficult decision about his future.
National Park Service regulations and budgetary
restrictions prevented the Grant-Kohrs staff from simply
keeping Rooster there as a ‘pasture pet.’ Even
if they could, this would be inconsistent with a true 1860’s
And because Rooster was official U.S. Government
property, the staff could not simply give him away. No,
Rooster would have to go through the auction process at
the Missoula Livestock Exchange. But who would want an enormous
2,000 lb draft horse who couldn’t be worked? The reality
was that Rooster would wind up in a slaughterhouse.
Could We Take Him?
Determined not to let that happen, the National
Park Service Superintendent at Grant-Kohrs, Laura Rotegard,
contacted us. Laura asked whether we would be able to take
Rooster if she bought him at the auction herself, using
her personal funds, and then turned him over to us.
Alayne and I hesitated. We were only taking
in blind horses, and Rooster was neither blind nor even
‘disabled’ by our definition. We were also nervous
about having draft horses because of their enormous size.
Rooster was huge, and bigger than most Belgians. Could we
Alayne drove down to Deer Lodge to see for
herself. On her way home she called from the road with her
assessment: “He’s BIG!,” she said. He
was also sweet, well-mannered, and gentle.
We pondered this some more. Finally we said
Because draft horse teams come in trained
pairs, Beaver could not remain at the ranch by himself.
He would have to go to sale, too. Beaver was still young
and healthy, and thus his chances of getting purchased by
another draft horse owner were pretty good.
At The Auction House
On ‘sale day’ I drove to Missoula
with the horse trailer and met Laura at the Livestock Exchange.
We walked to the back feedlots where the hundreds of horses
awaiting auction were penned. There I saw Beaver and Rooster
for the first time. They were scared to death, huddled tightly,
looking alarmed at the noisy, smelly chaos of the livestock
yards around them.
We expected Beaver and Rooster to go through
the auction ring individually, since one could work and
the other couldn’t.
You can imagine our surprise when the doors
opened and both draft horses came charging through. The
auctioneer immediately began the bidding. The only words
we could understand in his rapid-fire delivery were “bidder’s
choice,” but we didn’t know what that meant.
How Much Is A Life Worth?
Only a few people were bidding on Beaver and
Rooster, including the slaughterhouse buyers. With each
bid, Laura would wave her card to match it. In less than
a minute it was over. Laura had the winning bid at $650.
The auctioneer asked Laura which horse she wanted, or whether
she wanted both. Still puzzled why Beaver and Rooster were
in the ring together but knowing there had to be a reason,
Laura quickly said she’d take the two horses.
It turned out “bidder’s choice”
meant the winning bidder could choose which of the two animals
he or she wanted, or take both and pay the winning bid price
for each. If only one was sold, the bidding would start
over for the second, less-favored horse. The final $650
bid was actually the highest price anyone at the auction
was willing to pay for Beaver, a working draft horse in
great shape. No one would top Laura’s bid. That meant
Rooster would have sold to the slaughterhouse buyers for
On the way out to pay, we learned why both
horses entered the ring together. The Livestock Exchange
wranglers, who are used to dealing with bulls, stallions
and other hard-to-handle animals, could not separate Beaver
and Rooster. They would not allow themselves to be taken
away from each other, and they fought the wranglers’
attempts to separate them.
That’s when Laura and I knew it was
meant to be. These two half-brothers, who had been together
their entire lives, meant everything to each other. Now
they’d spend the rest of their lives together, too.
I called Alayne and said, “We’ve got two draft
horses coming home tonight.”