Finger Lakes Livestock Exchange brings awareness to breast cancer

HOPEWELL — First of all, it’s not a cow. It’s a steer.

And this big steer, standing high and peering over Routes 5 and 20, has marked Finger Lakes Livestock Exchange for 15, well, now maybe 20 years, said the owner, Barb Parker.

At first, it was red and white, like a Hereford. Then because her late husband, Ronald, liked angus cattle, it was painted black.

As of Oct. 1, the steer proudly stands pretty in pink.

“We’ve had a lot of compliments about it,” Parker said. “People talk about it all the time. They think it’s nice to look at something different.”

The moo-ving makeover marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, said Parker, who is a breast cancer survivor herself.

The intent of the kind-hearted steer stunt is not to get anything out of it other than to prompt the many motorists who drive along busy Routes 5 and 20 to be thinking about breast cancer and the friends and family members who have been touched by the disease.

“It’s just to make people aware,” Parker said.

And the pink steer is what Ronald Parker would have wanted, she said.

Her husband, who died last June, was in the livestock business most of his life. When he was 18, he traveled to Wisconsin to learn to be an auctioneer, according to his obituary. In 1964, that’s what he did when he came to the livestock exchange.

The Parkers bought the business in 1983.

Area farmers, some as far away as the North Country, bring in their cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, which the exchange sells during the weekly Wednesday auction.

“We always took pride in that we are New York state’s largest independently owned livestock market,” Parker said.

Parker and her daughter and granddaughter are carrying on with the business, although she noted it is a bit more difficult without him.

One of the benefits of working here is being your own boss, she said. That, and making friends, which her husband certainly did over the years.

“He didn’t want a funeral, so he wanted a celebration of life. There was probably 500 people here, friends and past workers,” Parker said. “He was very well liked and he wanted us to go on, and we are.”

Over the years, the Parkers also have given back to their community, supporting and volunteering for many 4H and local agricultural programs over the years.

And they’ve done so in other ways.

When their daughter-in-law needed a heart transplant, the Parkers and the rest of the folks at the exchange did a lot to promote awareness of the benefits of organ transplantation, advertising the need to sign up to be an organ donor on their trucks.

And this year, they were thinking pink.

So one recent Saturday, five of the guys, with the help of a skid steer loader, removed the steer from its perch. Great care had to be taken not to damage the plastic steer — which is hollow inside and not as heavy as it looks.

“If they would have dropped it, it probably would have crumbled,” Parker said.

Parker’s granddaughter and her friend spent a Saturday painting it inside the shop off to the side of the main building.

“I know it took seven cans of paint to paint it,” Parker said. “To cover the black was a little bit difficult — and that was two girls each. So it’s got a lot of paint on it.”

After it was placed back where it belongs, one of the guys posted the picture on his Facebook page — and it drew 137 comments right away, Parker said.

Terri Stell couldn’t help but notice the new-look steer.

One of her family members is battling the disease, and she thinks this is a great reminder that while a personal struggle, too many others also are touched by breast cancer. Really, it’s a universal struggle, she said, and the steer is a great conversation starter to help people talk more about it.

And the steer, which for many locals who drive by every day has faded into the background scenery, all of a sudden takes a turn in a hot pink spotlight.

“Holy cow!” Stell said. “There it is.”

The pink steer will stay up after Breast Cancer Awareness Month ends and November begins.

“After all the work it took to get it down, and painting it, we’ll leave it up another month or so,” Parker said. “Then we’ll take it down and repaint it.”