Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ruby and the Round Pen

Ruby's training has not progressed well at all.  Now, that she is feeling better, she has returned to her aggressive behavior.  What I mistakenly thought was her becoming docile was actually her just having a sore head and not interested in picking a fight.  She is back to rushing me and waving her now hornless head at me.  She evens paws like a bull.  This is the same behavior I saw after a few days  after she settled in.  I guess my 'talk' with her earlier didn't impress her much.

I woke up Saturday with a crazy idea.  In Ruby's pasture is a round pen.  Maybe I could get her to be more respectful of me if a move her around a little in the round pen.  So, after luring her in and leaving her for awhile to settle down, I returned.  I don't think she learned anything but I did.  When you bring an aggressive cow into a small enclosure and try to move them around, they get mad.  Really mad.  In fact, it probably looked a bit like bullfighting minus the blood and the shiny cape.  Oh, and no one threw me roses. 

Let's tally the score:

1)  Tried waiting until she stopped showing bad behaviors before giving her the feed in the pasture (surely such a generous act such as feeding a skinny cow will cause said cow to adore me instantaneously).  FAIL.  Ruby: 1  Me: 0

2)  Tried moving cow around the round pen to get her to stop charging me.  FAIL.  Ruby: 2  Me: 0

So, now the plan is simply time.  I moved Ruby into our bullpen with a fresh round bale and her feeder pushed up right next to the fence.  I dump her feed into her feeder through the fence, thus, preventing any real contact with her when she shows aggression.  I'm going to feed her and ignore her behavior.  I'm also going to sit in an adjacent corral to try to get her used to my presence without actually interacting directly.  Perhaps it's because she is so hungry still and sees me withholding the food.  Maybe when she gets some weight on she'll feel like being nice.

Or, to quote a Simpsons episode, "Animals are a lot like people.  Some misbehave because they've been mistreated and some are just jerks."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Good-bye, Sweet Easter

We sold Easter, one of our 3 1/2 year old cows.  She was gentle and built well for milking so I did some initial training with her and sold her as a family milk cow.  I just received an update and she has settled in well to her new home.  Kind people who will treat her gently. Withe her new home comes a slightly different name: Esther. 

Easter was born while we were at church on Easter Sunday in 2007.  We came home, changed, and went outside to do chores.  My husband called over to me because he thought a dog was in Tara's corral.  The 'dog' was actually a black calf, still wet from birth.  Tara called to her with a quiet lowing.  The sound is similar to that of a distant foghorn calling out to ships.  A quiet, reassuring song written just for each calf.  We moved the pair carefully into an adjacent corral.  Then, I fed Tara some alfalfa hay while I checked the new calf.  I dipped her navel in Iodine, to prevent infection, and looked her over before returning her to her mother.  We watched anxiously as she searched her mother for a meal.  It seemed like forever watching her move down her mother's body, searching her chest, behind her front leg, along her belly and, oops, past the udder to the tail.  I whispered, "Come on, little calf!"  Finally, she found something nasty, and then moved away.  I resisted the urge to show her where it was again, trusting her newborn sense of smell to lead her the right way.  At last, we heard sloppy suckling noises.  What a relief!

Over the next few weeks, I marveled at the care Tara gave her calf.  Always in sight of her and always ready to answer her call or run to see what might be upsetting her.  Soon enough, April was born to Tina and the two calves romped in the cool mornings and rested together in the shade of the oaks.  We weaned them together and halter-trained them together.  April always a bit more bold, Easter always a bit more shy.  Their own calves played together last year, and now, Easter has moved on to a good home.  Tara has a new calf to mother but she called to Easter as we left in the trailer.  Cows never forget their calves.

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.

The Adventures of Princess Bonny

The head count this morning came up three calves short. Then, I heard bawling in the distance. *Sigh* I knew it was Princess Bonny squeezing through the fence once again. But this time, she took along two of her subjects.

These three eight month old calves have really been joined at the hip since birth. They faced halter breaking, vaccines, ear tagging, tattooing and de-horning as a little herd within a herd. They are the calves that always have that feral teenager look on their faces whenever I check on the cows. Like I almost caught them doing something that would have earned them detention.

So, there, on the other side of four strands of barbed wire, in the wild Florida woods, stand Princess Bonny, her Lady-in-Waiting, Cloe, and her gentleman friend, Arnold (steer). There is familiar look of complete innocence in their eyes, as if they woke up and were magically on the wrong side of the fence. Of course, it's on the morning of the day from he!! when I have far more errands to do than a normal day would allow. My toddler just looks up at the errant calves and sighs from his stroller. I apologize to him and roll him out into the pasture adjacent to the miscreants. At first, I squeeze through the fence, rattle some alfalfa pellets in a day-glo pink bucket set aside just for these occasions, and hold it open for Her Highness to step daintily through. But today, for reasons known only to the mind of an eight month old calf, she refuses this solution and resumes pacing and bawling with her minions. *Double sigh* 
There is a gate through about an acre of thick brush and trees. Now, in a normal state of the Union, this is a bit of a challenge, perhaps requiring some forethought, but here, in the wilds of Florida, the word 'wild' should conjure up pictures of snakes, alligators, and spiders-as-big-as-dinner-plates. Not to mention fire ants, flying roaches, and stick bugs that spray acid into your eyes. Pleasant early morning trek while wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes (all was I doing was going out to feed, right?). I glance at my boy in his stroller happily watching the cows and calves from the neighboring pasture. He is in a nice shady spot free of vermin and wild creatures. The rest of the herd has now congregated nearby, perhaps taking bets as to the probability of my success. I look into the wild brush and see only about four feet in. The calves, attracted to the day-glo pink bucket with alfalfa pellets, stand sniffing hopefully. I look at Princess Bonny and call to her as I plunge into the wall of shrubbery. Her Majesty follows carefully. Branches break around me as I whack out a path for Her Highness and Her Royal Court to pass. A small branch sticks up four inches in front of Her Royalness which causes her to hesitate, so I retrace my steps and break it for her. She reluctantly follows along with her minions. It was then that I hit the first WEB. Now, I know what you are thinking. "Come on, cowgirl up! It's just a spider web, fer crying out loud". No, gentle reader. In your neck of the woods it is a spider web, but here, in the wilds of Florida, it is a massive collection of titanium strands whose keeper leers hopefully at any helpless creature who is stupid enough to blunder into it (me). After frantic swiping with my trusty stick, the BEAST retreats reluctantly. I turn back to the calves, put on my best reassuring smile; ignoring the creepy strands of WEB now hanging from my hair, and shake the bucket. They glance behind me at the glowering BEAST and potentially lethal WEB strands dangling from my person and stop. Okay, more spider dueling is apparently required to satisfy Her Highness. Brandishing my trusty stick, I back the BEAST off and whack at the WEB until the path is clear. Finally, Her Highness is apparently agreeable.  At this time, I hear rustling off to both my left and my right.  Thinking happy thoughts of butterflies and sweet little ladybugs, I try hard to ignore the sounds and pray that Florida's more sinister natives are not lurking just off the trail, waiting patiently to take a nice chunk out of my bare leg.  Another WEB appears in front of me and it's resident shakes a leg, threateningly.  I shake my stick back and it retreats like Dracula before the morning sun.  I can feel hot breath on the back of my legs and hear what I hope to God is the movement of ruminants behind me.  I turn slowly and see three naughty calves huddled behind me with big eyes looking at me like, 'I really hope you know where you're going'.  One last whack with my trusty stick and daylight pours in!  The gate is just ahead. 
After a grueling fight with a rusty chain, I open the gate into the pasture and present the Royal Court with a lovely open pasture. They stop. I sprinkle alfalfa pellets on the ground and wrestle the gate open wider, grinning like a used car saleswoman. Finally, they relent and Her Highness returns to Her Kingdom. Moments later, my son and I watch the happy reunion of calves with the rest of the herd. A job well done.

As I am pushing my son's stroller back to the house, I realize that I am covered with leaves, grime, remnants of spider battles, and a little royal cow poo. I make the mistake of glancing back at my bovine charges. The three delinquents are huddled together, surely planning their next adventure. 
I just need a shower and to find a way to remove WEB from my glasses.  *Sigh*