EPPING — Ryan Hoelzel has spent months saving his money. He didn't want a new iPod, video game or other high-tech gadget. The 9-year-old Epping boy wanted a steer to enter in 4-H shows at upcoming fairs.
Ryan was thrilled last Sunday when the 1-year-old Belted Galloway yearling he bought with his own money finally arrived at his family's small farm on Fremont Road.
But the excitement turned to panic when the steer was unloaded from a trailer by a friend, became spooked and bolted.
The steer that Ryan planned to name Panda never made it into the family's fenced-in field and has been on the loose ever since.
"I was thinking it was all my fault," Ryan said Wednesday when he arrived home from school, hoping the steer had found its way back.
Dozens of family members, friends and neighbors have done their best to hunt for the wayward steer. It's been spotted a few times, but no one's been able to catch it, even though it has a halter and rope hanging from its neck.
"That calf just took off and he just ran," said Ryan's grandmother, Judy Sanborn, who lives next door on the family's farm and fears the animal could end up on busy Route 101 or Route 125.
Police have also been called in to help. The most recent sighting came Tuesday night when a Rockingham County sheriff's deputy saw the steer on the Rockingham Recreation Trail, not too far from Ryan's home in the area of Fremont and Jenness roads. The deputy wasn't able to catch it either.
On Monday night, Ryan noticed the steer from his bedroom window. He saw it walking in the hayfield behind his house. The steer headed toward his cousin's house, but the family had no luck retrieving it.
"It's so frustrating. We were so close," said Ryan's mother, Mary.
Ryan began saving up for the steer last year after he showed a dairy cow named Emma at the Deerfield Fair. Ryan borrowed that cow from another farm, but he decided he wanted his own to show at fairs this year in Deerfield, Hopkinton and Stratham.
Ryan saved up $350 for the yearling, which is black with a white belt around its mid-section.
He used every dollar he earned and collected for his birthday, Christmas and other occasions.
Ryan got a deal on the calf from a farm in Dover.
"The guy was nice. Because I was a 4-Her, he gave it to me for $350," Ryan said, adding that it would normally cost more.
Ryan is facing a June 1 deadline to enter his steer in 4-H for this year's beef cattle shows.
If the steer is found, Ryan isn't so sure he'll be able to keep it because it may be too big for him to handle. His mother said he would probably be better off with a younger one, maybe about 4 months old.
But Ryan hopes the steer returns so he can get his money back and use it to purchase a smaller one.
"He's out the cow and out the money," his mother said.
If he's not able to enter fairs this year, Ryan said he'll probably just help out his friends when they show their animals and try again next year.
Anyone with information on the steer's whereabouts is asked to call the Epping Police Department at 679-5122 or Mary Hoelzel at 235-6113.