Some of Amy Stotler’s best friends have hooves, a coarse and wet tongue and a penchant for oranges.
Princess just wanted to get a closer look at Tara; the steps leading up to the famous plantation backdrop were too enticing to the year-old angus heifer. It didn’t matter if she was in the middle of the show ring, in front of judges at a national competition. She refused to stand still for them — instead, she dragged her handler up the steps for a closer look.
“Princess had a little bit of an attitude because she was a princess,” said Amy Stotler, who was 20 when she showed the cow at the “Gone with the Wind”-themed National Junior Angus Show in 1997. “When you show in a national ring, it’s pretty big, a lot bigger than we were used to, so she wanted to see everything.”
Princess wasn’t done exploring, though. The 10 Miss Angus queens gathered off to the side had caught her eye, and she was curious.
“She stopped a minute and saw those queens sitting under the pergola, and that was it,” Stotler said. “She ran over to see what they were doing. … It’s very hard to stop (cows) when they have a mind of their own. The queens weren’t hurt; they were just a little startled that we were coming under there with them.
“We didn’t place very well,” she added, laughing.
Cattle have been part of the Winter Garden resident’s life for as long as she can remember. Her father, Rick, led the FFA animal-science program at West Orange High School for more than 25 years, and she grew up attending cattle shows with her family.
“As a child, you know how kids have a sport and stuff? I showed cows, and I was good at it,” she said. “Like travel ball, we did cow shows.”
Stotler said one of her fondest memories as a child was attending two NJAA shows, in Louisville and Perry.
“Some families go on vacations; we went to cow shows, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Stotler said.
She showed her first steer at the Central Florida Fair as a member of West Orange High School’s FFA program.
“The thing with steers is you show them one time, and then you were done,” she said. “You sold it. You spend a whole year on a project, and you only show it once. If I’m spending that kind of time, I wanted to show more than once. So that’s when I bought registered angus. I purchased with my money made from steers. I purchased the first two of our herd.”
At another early show, in Tallahassee in 1994, Stotler’s bull, Roy, won Grand Champion. She would continue to show many more cattle and take home numerous ribbons and trophies.
She no longer competes in the arena, but some of her animals are leased to Ocoee High School students so they can participate in the shows.
“Some people don’t have the money to be able to buy their own,” Stotler said. “This way, my animals are made a little friendlier and a kid gets the opportunity to show.”
She never forgot her FFA experiences and the friendships she forged.
“And that’s why I like giving back today,” she said. “I like giving to kids today. I got so much out of the program then, and I want kids to get something out of it today.”
A FAMILY BUSINESS
Since 1994, the father-daughter ranchers have co-owned Lazy A Angus, a cow-calf operation that sells the calves to other herds and sells the steers typically for their beef. The bulls are used for reproduction.
They keep their 60 cows in pastures in Groveland and on East Plant Street, in Winter Garden.
How do they determine which of the males remain bulls and which become castrated steers?
“We choose steers a lot of time depending on age of when they are born,” she said. “They need to be born a certain time of year in order to be ‘finished’ at the time of the fair. A lot of the decision-making is looks, how the animal is put together. If we think we have one that is the right age and looks good, we will steer him.
“If we don’t steer them, some people buy our bulls to use in their herd,” she said. “And it’s based on looks, as well. If you have a jam-up (good-looking) bull calf and you think he will produce quality calves, you sell him to someone who has cows.”
Since they rarely keep the boys, Stotler and her father don’t give them names. The three bulls they do own are Midland, a purebred registered angus that lives in Groveland, and Jack and Big Boy, the kings of the Winter Garden herd.
Stotler talks about her cows as if she’s referring to her closest girlfriends.
Rose is 5 years old and has had three calves, one solid black and two with white blazes on their faces. She loves oranges, hay and people.
Char is 9, and while she’s not the bully of the herd, she makes her presence known. She’s one of the blonde cows; all but one calf has been black. She loves oranges and thinks everyone that comes to the ranch is there to see her. She doesn’t play well with others.
Cora isn’t quite a year old. Her mother, Greta, is not that friendly, but she is; this super-sweet calf loves people, oranges and attention.
Joy is the daughter of Jacey. She is the third calf Jacey, another blonde cow, has had and the first black one. She loves food, oranges and people.
Stotler said about 75% of the cows have names, and some are named after the rich and famous. There’s Audrey, as in Hepburn, and then there’s Vanna, who was the first white cow. (“Get it?” Stotler asked.)
At 16, Jenny is the oldest of them all; Stotler calls her the Queen Bee. Jenny is special, she said, because she is the daughter of Maxie, the first heifer calf born on the Lazy A Angus Ranch. Maxie was also a Grand Champion.
FIELD OF FRIENDS
Some people turn on the television. Others read a book.
When Stotler, now 40, wants to relax, she grabs a folding chair and a bag of sliced oranges and heads to the cow pasture.
“I just like hanging out with my cows,” she said. “It’s just relaxing. I like to do it later in the evening when the sun is going down. … I sit far enough away so I don’t disturb them, but my friendly girls will come up and check me out. It’s just nice to take in the orange of the setting sun and relax after a long day. It’s my happy place.”
There probably aren’t many people who will stage a celebratory photo shoot for their cow’s birthday, but Stotler has. Stella was pregnant and was turning 9, so this became a maternity shoot, as well.
Stotler’s photographer friend, Amanda Newman, captured the images of Stella, wearing a flower-adorned, six-foot-long burlap ribbon, while Stotler sat nearby, wearing multiple strands of pearls and tossing colorful confetti. Beside Stella was a chalkboard that read: “Whoever said money couldn’t buy happiness hasn’t owned a show cow before.”
The four-legged model cooperated, Stotler said, because she had a supply of oranges.
Stotler always makes sure she has oranges for her cows. Some of them enjoy a juicy slice of watermelon, but they all jockey for her attention when she pulls out the bags of peeled oranges. She knows to watch her back when the pushier ones are near. They don’t hurt her, but a nudge from a 1,300-pound cow can certainly prove who’s boss.
The group in Groveland is fed every morning, and the Winter Garden herd chows down in the evenings. Stotler and her dad put out 150 pounds at each pasture every day. After they have had their meal, the selfies begin.
She has perfected the process — all it takes is a handful of oranges, the multi-photo burst mode on her phone camera and a willingness to get a fist full of cow slobber.
She has achieved Facebook popularity with her cow photos — each one designed to show off Stotler’s bright smile and the cows’ personalities.
“When I post photos of my cows, I think it shows another side of the cattle industry,” she said.
Life has come full circle for Stotler. As a student, she frequented the Central Florida Fairgrounds to show her animals. Today, she works there full time in the finance department.
But every spring, she gets to relive a bit of those glory years.
“I like March and April,” she said. “March is the fair, and we’ve worked so hard to put it together, and I love seeing the kids show their animals. Even though I don’t work in livestock anymore, I love seeing the kids compete.
“April I love because it’s slammed with concerts and festivals, so it’s a different kind of busy,” Stotler said. “The best thing I can say about my job is it’s never, ever boring.”
The same can be said for her after-hours job, too, in her happy place, in the middle of the pastures of Groveland and Winter Garden.