Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Clicker Training Ruby the Red Dexter Cow

Here at Moonlit Oaks Ranch, we raise Dexter cattle.  9 of the 12 Dexters here on our farm were born here, including Easter, April, Arnold, Bonny, Cloe, Daisy, Blake, Erin and Fiona.  Two are 5 year old Dexter cows that I purchased as 6 month old weanlings (Tina and Tara).  All are halter-broke and gladly eat treats from your hand.

The twelfth one is a recent purchase.  Although not her registered name, we decided on "Ruby" as her farm name.  She is 8 years old and did not take to her new home at all.  She was the lowest ranked cow in her previous herd and not as tame as our cows.  She also had horns that turned inward.  Since Dexters can live up to 20 years, this could cause problems down the road.  Plus, our fair will not allow any horned cattle to be displayed so her horns had to go.  As I mentioned, she did not take to be relocated from Texas and actually charged at me a few times with her horns lowered (we had a 'talk' about that behavior).  For our safety, for her future as a fair cow, and because of potential trouble her horns may cause her in the future, we opted to have them removed.

She had surgery at University of Florida's Large Animal Hospital last Thursday.  They did cosmetic dehorning, which used the skin on either side of her horns to cover up her wounds.  Knowing my goal was to halter-break this cow, I did my best to stay away from her once she was unloaded from my trailer to prevent any negative association between her pain and me.  We were having enough trouble already.  She was apparently quite a handful for the veterinary team and I'm sure they were not sorry to see her back on my trailer at the end of the day!

For the next several days, I entered her pasture and placed her feed bucket a fair distance away from her due to her increased shyness.  She was not cleaning up her feed and I became concerned about her surgical sites.  Sunday was the first day she allowed me within ten feet of her and I noticed the reason she was not finishing her feed.  Whenever she lowered her head, a trickle of blood drained onto her feed from each nostril.  I called her vet and this was okay at this stage of her healing since there was no sign of pus or an excess of blood.  For Sunday's evening feeding, I placed her feed on the bottom of a big rubber water tub to raise it up, hoping that she could finish it without any dribble of blood making it unappealing.  It worked!  I am also happy to note that I see a quieter eye and a more relaxed cow now.  She even followed me around her pasture a little.

Her clicker training will start tomorrow.  My plan is to simply place food out for her and click when she reaches it.  I hope she will start an association.  When she's ready, it's time to set out a sample of different treats to see what she favors.  Then, actual clicker training can start in earnest.  I think I'll try marshmallows, oat horse treats, and pieces of apple.

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