PORTAGE — Ceci Schoenenberger has never met an animal she didn’t like.
“When she was just a baby, all the other little kids would be off doing stuff, and Ceci would be finding bugs and worms,” says mom Rita Schoenenberger. “She’s always liked animals.”
As a toddler, Ceci loved hermit crabs — “We went through a lot of them,” Rita explains. Although she doesn’t remember all of their names, Rita does recall one memorable crab called Rainbow.
“(Ceci) left it on Dad’s cheek while he was napping,” Rita recalls, “and he woke up screaming and she came running to me saying, ‘Wanebow bit Daddy!’”
Among the other assorted animals Ceci has owned over the years are two chameleons, a bunny rabbit, an Arabian horse, a quarter horse, and too many frogs, fish and snakes to remember. She also had a rooster named Dirty Joe (Don’t ask how he got THAT name!), who was killed when a tree fell on his cage during the big windstorm of 2015.
Ceci’s current roster of animals includes Rosie the tarantula; Timmy the box turtle; Swimmy the aquatic frog (aka “The Brute”); Tom the bearded dragon; two salamanders, named Snappy and Ike; horses Sam, Schoney and June; Gator the colt; Thunder the steer; four unnamed turkeys; five cats; and three dogs — two of whom play a mean game of tether ball.
And then there’s Daisy.
Daisy is Ceci’s pet cow. Yes, pet cow.
“It’s like having a 1,300-pound black lab,” dad Scott Schoenenberger says, rubbing Daisy’s head.
Born in the spring of 2014, Daisy was what is referred to as a “bum calf.” As Rita explains, when a cow gives birth to twins, she only has enough milk for one of her offspring, so ranchers will usually remove one of the calves and bottle feed it. The one separated from its mother is called a “bum calf.”
“And that was Ceci’s job twice a day — to bottle feed the bum calves down in the barn,” Rita says.
For some reason, Ceci had always wanted a pet cow. One that she could actually saddle up and ride.
“I kinda just got it in my head one day that it would be cool to do it,” the 15-year-old Ceci says. “I figured if I can break in a cow, I can break in a colt.”
Ceci had been begging her parents for a pet cow, but they’d always told her no. Frankly, they just couldn’t spare a calf for a pet.
And then came the spring of 2014 — a banner year for bum calves. The Schonenbergers had eight sets of twins born that year; Ceci had her hands full with her twice-daily feeding chores. And with a glut of bum calves, Ceci saw her chance.
“Finally, this one year we had all these bum calves,” she said. “So I secretly halter-broke Daisy” — meaning, she got the calf used to being led around on a rope.
Of course, Ceci only thinks she was doing it secretly; Mom and Dad knew what was going on. Daisy was born in March and Ceci’s birthday was in June. That year, her parents gave her Daisy as a birthday present.
“It took two years for her to finally talk us into it,” Rita said. “Dad’s actually the one who gave in first — which I’m glad he did.”
Ceci wouldn’t let her parents brand Daisy or put ear tags on her, so Rita says she worried that someone might rustle the cute little calf. They got a leather belt from the thrift store and put a cowbell on it, along with a personalized dog tag in the shape of a bone that had “Daisy” on one side and Ceci’s name and number on the other — just in case the calf got lost.
“Ceci fell in love with this heifer,” Rita says. “She had this dream that she really wanted to ride this cow.”
Once Daisy hit about 500 pounds, Ceci began trying to ride her. She started out riding bareback, and admits she was bucked off a time or two early in the process. Then, last fall, Ceci started using a makeshift saddle. In the summer, Ceci takes Daisy swimming in the pond; in the winter, she hitches up Daisy to a small plastic sled and gets pulled around the snowy pasture.
Scott and Rita Schoenenberger say they’re city folk who moved to the 1,300-acre ranch in 2008. Rita says they’re learning ranching as they go along.
“We decided we wanted to raise Ceci this way,” Scott said.
Portage, just this side of the Idaho border, is about as small-town Utah as it gets.
“There’s a post office and a soda machine in town,” Ceci says. “That’s about it. The soda machine is at the post office.”
Now a sophomore at Bear River High School, Ceci says she hopes to become a large-animal veterinarian someday.
Currently, Daisy tips the scales at 1,310 pounds. Ceci rides her two or three times a week — mostly around the ranch, or to her grandparents’ place up the road. Ceci also rode Daisy in the Plymouth July 4th parade, and at the local rodeo this year.
Around school and town, Ceci is quickly becoming known as “The Girl Who Rides a Cow.” Or, simply, “The Cow Girl.”
Ceci says most people find it “hilarious” that she rides a heifer. Her friends love to come over and ride Daisy, and even strangers will occasionally ask for a ride.
“A lot of people that haven’t rode horses will get on her,” Ceci says.
Neil Schoenenberger, Ceci’s 83-year-old grandfather, is no stranger to riding horses. He owns the ranch just north of Scott and Rita’s place, and aside from his granddaughter, he’s never seen anybody saddle up a cow. Nor has he ever ridden one.
But on a recent Monday morning, it didn’t take much coaxing for Ceci to get grandpa up on Daisy for the first time.
“She’s one of a kind,” Neil Schoenenberger says of his granddaughter. “She’s a sweetheart.”
The close bond between Ceci and Daisy is both apparent and understandable. After all, they’ve been together since the moment of Daisy’s birth. And it was Ceci who bottle fed that little bum calf all that time.
“She thinks I’m her mom,” Ceci says.
Ceci does have one other cow she’s been raising — a steer named Thunder that she entered in the Box Elder County Fair. But their relationship ends with the closing of the fair.
“He’s meat after that,” Ceci explains matter-of-factly.
“She knows she’s not going to be meat,” Ceci says. “Daisy’s more of a pet — more of a fun deal, like a pony. She’s not a work animal, and she’s not food.”