Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Armstrong, the small and mighty Dexter bull

I must admit that I was skeptical when we unloaded that 8 month old bull calf this past June.  Our long trip to Virginia was far from disappointing.  Here was a lovely built bull....in miniature!  He is certainly on the shorter end of long-legged Dexter bulls, which is exactly what my herd needs because I feared they were approaching the upper end of the height standards.  However, that means there is a basic physics problem of how a small young bull can cover older taller cows.  I joked about leaving a step-stool in the pasture.  I wasn't anxious for him to breed my cows, but I have four cows that will be going to their new homes as soon as they are bred.  Summer means grass is available and if he can't settle them until fall, well, then it costs money to feed the sold cows hay so it is in my best interests for the cows to be bred as soon as the bull is able.

I looked at my crabby 6 year old cows eyeballing him with amusement and wondered how he'd ever woo them or if they would send him straight to a playpen at the far side of the pasture.  At first, I tried to put him in an adjacent pasture in hopes that he would be accepted more readily with such a formal introduction (like an old fashioned lover's gate of sorts).  He would have none of it.  He bellowed his calf-like cry and made it clear he wanted in with the girls.  I relented.  As soon as a I opened the gate, he marched right up to the first cow like he was ten feet tall, and sniffed her boldly.  She was taken aback but tolerated him.  It was like watching a little terrier strut right up to a big shepherd.  He had no doubts.  Confidence seemed to walk with him as he checked out his herd.  I left feeling that at least they were probably intimidated enough not to chase him through a fence. 

The next few days were a marvel.  Junior herded his cows and checked them like a seasoned bull.  I watched bemused but still wondered if I should dig some holes for the cows to stand in or cart in some rocks for the bull to climb up onto. 

Now, for those that know standard breeds, a bull should be a year old before you can expect him to produce any calves.  We had the vet out to check our cows for pregnancy at the beginning of October.  All but one is at least two months pregnant.  A few are three months along.  The one cow is most likely just too early to confirm as pregnant.  Armstrong had a busy summer.  I do not know how he accomplished this task, and, frankly, I don't need to know.  I never saw him do anything but groom and herd the cows but he's the only bull for miles.  His first calves are expected in March and April.  ;)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Horse Ghost Town

We drove down the winding road in the shade of oak tree hammocks with spanish moss dangling overhead.  We were on our way to Dunnellon, Florida to pick up a couple of turkey chicks.  The route passed through the legendary Ocala, FL.  The home of so many famous racing stud farms.  It is Lexington, KY with palm trees.  Or, at least, it used to be.

I have traveled this route before.  The first time was back in 2005, when I was still in the US Navy.  I drooled over the scenic pastures with double fencing and stunningly beautiful horses munching happily.  Broodmares with round bellies full of hope and promise.

This morning was a much different experience.  As we passed through town, I saw overgrown pastures and many "For Sale" or "For Lease" signs.  Irish Acres is being sold off into 0.9 acre parcels to build "your dream home".  Many of the big stud farms are just gone.  The expensive signs have been taken down and the fences are falling into disrepair.  What startled me most, however, was the waste of it all.  All that valuable pasture land with nothing to eat it.  Meanwhile, people are auctioning off their horses for less than $50.  Ads on Craigslist for free horses, some in deplorable condition, on empty lots without a blade of grass.  If only we could rescue horses and have them use that valuable pasture this summer.  With slick shiny coats, perhaps they'd have an easier time finding good homes.  Of course, it would never work, but the irony is appalling. 

I think I'll stick to the highway next time.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trip to Virginia and two new additions

Has anyone ever thought to themselves, "Gee, I would like to grab my spouse, strap my toddler into his car seat, load up two cows, and drive over 650 miles?"  Really?  Never?  Well, if the wild urge ever strikes you, may I suggest either repeatedly slamming your hand in a car door or perhaps driving a few nails with your forehead.

We had a promising new baby bull to pick up in Church Roads, Virginia and two of our cows were being leased to Maymont Park in Richmond, Virginia.  After discussing all options, we decided to do our first family road trip.  Note: we do not own a minivan with any sort of entertainment center and sound-proof barrier.  No, there was no way to lull our offspring into a Disney-induced, eyes glazed over, DVD coma.  We left armed with some feeble toys, lots of wipes, Kleenex, snacks, water, and access to both hubby's and my I-tunes, all within easy reach during the drive.  And, I thought, naively, that I was well-prepared.

John has many talents.  One of which is to yell for miles on end when we do not play his favorite song 37 times in a row.  In fact, I do believe the back seat of a 3/4 ton pick-up truck actually magnifies young voices so when his 37th request was refused, his wails were actually louder than stepping on the toes of 40 cats, blasting 15 trumpets, and a Blue Angels flyover all simultaneously.

I am happy to report, however, that while John had his moments, I did bring one magical toy that made the trip bearable: a soccer ball.  At every stop for gas or sanity, we took John out to a grassy spot to kick the ball around and get rid of pent up energy.

Meanwhile, the cows, Erin, and Arnold, were quite well-behaved.  The first night, we stopped at Mistletoe Farms in Varnville, SC.  Erin and Arnold were unloaded and placed into a large 14x14 foot stall to rest.  The barn was cool and dark in the June heat.  We toured the miniature horse farm with the owners of the quaint little Bed and Breakfast.  John was a bundle of energy after the long drive so the walk did him some good.  Then, we dropped the trailer and headed into town for dinner.  We ended up at a local diner sitting next to the grumpiest old sheriff's deputy I have ever seen in my life.  He had to work hard at being that grumpy.  The small town of Hampton, SC surely could not have had the murder rate to make that cop so bitter towards his fellow man that his face was masked in a permanent scowl.  I truly believe he would make NYC homicide detectives cry.  Even John inquisitively peering at him over the back of our bench did nothing to break his mask (as we hurriedly sat our child back down lest Mr. Robocop reached for his taser).

Erin and Arnold at the B&B.


Although still concerned that we might be arrested for smiling too much, we had to let John run around a bit before heading back to the B&B.  Thankfully, Mr. Grumpy had urgent business elsewhere (no doubt stamping out excess mirth in some other sector of town).  It was nice to return to the B&B to relax and check on the cows before bed.  By early evening, there was a cool breeze flowing through the paddocks so we moved the cows outside to spend the night.

The cows loaded easily the next morning for our drive to Virginia.  It was a long day and we didn't reach Maymont until after the park had closed to the public.  Erin and Arnold didn't seem at all fazed by the new surroundings.  The pastures were lush and spacious as was their own private paddock, complete with a shelter.  We tied them up and brushed them with their new caretakers and then unloaded their hay, feed, treats and buckets.  We left their halters with them as well.  It was hard to leave them since I had known them since the day they were born, but they are in very good hands.

We noticed a problem with one of the trailer tires and fortunately, the baby bull's owner was able to direct us to a tire repair service the following morning.  After that little adventure, we were off to Paradise Farm to pick up Armstrong.  We had a chance to meet the bull's sire and dam as well as may others in Mr. Bowen's herd.  Very impressive animals.  Armstrong was coaxed into the trailer and we were off to South Carolina once again.  We arrived late at night so we left Armstrong in the trailer and dragged ourselves off to bed.  

The following morning began early again and we packed up and readied ourselves for another lovely breakfast.  As we stepped out of the door, the B&B owner was watching a skinny Golden Retriever cross walk around his yard.  The dog came right up to us with his tail wagging.  He was subdued and dirty but very friendly.  No collar or tags and the farm owner had never seen him before.  He and his wife had three dogs, two of which were aggressive towards other dogs (though perfectly lovely towards people) so he told us that he would have to take the dog to the local pound.  He also mentioned in passing that the pound didn't have much luck finding new homes for dogs (you see where this is going).  At that point, I decided to be aloof towards the dog and let hubby be the one to decide if we would get involved in this poor scrawny dog's future.  As if sensing exactly whom he would have to charm, the dog walked right up to hubby and sat down while giving him 'the look'.  You know the one.  A mixture of "I am a loving dog that will be your devoted friend for life" and "I am a poor starving, desperate beast".  Well, it was well played because hubby started asking about whether or not the dog could ride in the tack room.  The clincher for us both was how gentle and sweet the dog was to John.  At that point, it was out of our hands because John was walking with the dog saying "My dog!  My dog!"  I fixed up the tack room with a towel from the B&B owner (who was so delighted that we were taking the dog home) and tied a rope around his neck so we could walk him when we stopped for gas.  We packed up, fed and watered Armstrong, and set off for home.  We were a little concerned about passing the Agriculture Inspection Station with a stray dog but they asked me no questions and I told them no lies.

Poor Miles when we first came home.

I unloaded Armstrong into a pasture adjacent to his cow herd and he was neither intimidated nor afraid of our cow herd so after a brief introduction through the fence, I turned him out with the cows.  After some initial nosing and sniffing, he set about to checking his girls like a seasoned bull.  Quite impressive for an 8 month old.  Dexters can be quite precocious.

Armstrong in his new pasture.

Meanwhile, the new dog was introduced briefly to the farm and fed and watered separate from our two dogs.  I bathed him and treated him for fleas as well.  He was nothing but skin and bones underneath his golden fur.  It was also alarming how much he just wanted to sleep.  I looked at his teeth and he seemed to be a young dog.  The following morning (now Monday) we took him to our vet and he was treated for extensive parasites, vaccinated, neutered and bathed twice more.  He will have to go back to the vet when he is stronger to get a more complete heartworm treatment (he was a strong positive for infection).  After only a few good meals, he was much more alert and hyper.  His eyes shone with delight and joy as he bounced around.  He had no manners, but he is catching on fast to life on a farm and how to be an inside dog as well.  Our dogs have really warmed up to him these past few weeks and I can see he is becoming part of the family.  We named him Miles in honor of our long trip as well as his.  He was also found near Miles Road.  He has gained weight very well and plays with the other dogs now.  Amazingly enough, he has no food aggression type behaviors.  He looks so much more alive now and he's a good dog.

Amazing difference after only three days of good meals.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Home from the Clay County Fair

On Wednesday, March 30th, I drove with our two year old son, John, to the livestock barn at the Clay County Fair to set up for opening day on Thursday.  I used leftover St. Patrick's Day shamrock decorations to emphasize the Irish ancestry of Dexter Cattle.  I also had way too much hay delivered for the ten day long fair.  30 square bales but they only needed 14 bales (and I probably fed them too much hay).

At about 4:30 Wednesday evening, I haltered and tied up all the cows to await their ride to the fair.  They loaded up well considering this was the first trailer seven of the cows had ever seen and their first time away from from home.  We unloaded and tied them in their assigned spots.  I fed each one in an individual bucket and fed them their hay before leaving them in the care of Kyle, who has been the one helping me with their halter training and grooming.

Thursday morning, bright and early, I arrived after a rainy night and cleaned their beds, fed, and watered.  Some of the cows did not want to drink.  I decorated with shamrocks and put up sign tags above each cow.  We also had a sweet smelling gardenia plant that my dad bought for decoration.  I had a big display about Dexter Cattle and a smaller display about our farm.  I rigged up the hose and set up the CD player to play Irish music once the fair opened.  Once I was satisfied, John and I walked around a little before the fair opened.  As soon as the first people came down the walkway, I knew that folks liked our set up.  I was surprised how many people read our display.  One mother even scolded her restless child by saying that since someone had gone through the trouble to make the display, it was polite to read it.  LOL!  I had some gifts to hand out to the kids and they went quickly.  Shamrock crazy bands, stickers, necklaces and coins were snatched up by eager little hands. 

Friday morning, I bathed all the cows in preparation for the day.  It was the second bath for most of the cows and the first bath for the three babies.  The babies did great!  When baby Erin was born, she had meconium smeared on her belly so I had to bathe her when she was less than an hour old.  Consequently, she was the easiest to bathe at the fair.  That evening, my other helper, Miranda, arrived to watch the cows through the evening hours.  I can't say enough good things about both of my helpers.  They did a great job and enabled me to go home every night to be with my husband and go through our toddler's bedtime routine.  I could not have done this without them.  

I learned quickly that no one is afraid of our little cows.  People who would never think of approaching full sized cattle walked right up and petted ours.  I encouraged them to pet the babies at the end so I didn't have to worry about their feet being stepped on accidently.  As far as I know, no one's toes suffered during the ten days at the fair.  Many people, especially little children, were eager to feed treats to the calves and cows.  Since all of our cows love treats, they were happily and gently received from little fingers. 

The weekend was brisk and I met many people who enjoyed our cattle very much.

At first, I think some of the other cattle folks scoffed a bit at my little cattle, but after about 4 days, I caught a few of them petting the calves.  One gentleman even said that our cows were so friendly they were more like dogs than cattle.

Monday began a pattern of late afternoon opening hours so we had some time to ourselves during the day.  The steers were coming in all that day.  I let Fiona and Erin run and play in the unoccupied arena before the day's events began.  They had the best time bucking and sparring with each other.  They even drew a small audience to witness their antics.  The following day, I turned out Bonny and Arnold together and then Daisy and Cloe together.  There was not an opportunity to turn out Blake or the big girls during the fair.  However, Tara and Tina kicked up once when I was walking them in to eat.  Naughty cows, but it was a long time to be tied up. 

Overall, it was a great experience to meet, not just a lot of visitors that enjoyed our cows, but to be able to meet other cattle breeders from our area.  It was fun watching the children with our cows especially.  John met some new friends among the children and grandchildren of the other families who were showing or exhibiting cattle.  A few times, I watched him as he walked up and down the walkway with a big grin on his face while holding hands with two little girls.

On April 10th, the trailer arrived early that Sunday morning to take the cattle home.  The trailer drove them straight to one of our fresh pastures.  It had rained a bit during the time the cows were away, so they had some young grasses to eat.  I took off each cow's halter and turned them loose.  They ran and played, each one joining the running herd.  Bonny was so excited, she took off with her halter still on.  Once they calmed down I fed them and removed Bonny's halter.  It was good to see them run and play after being cooped up for so many days.  I think they did a great job representing their breed and their relaxation time back home in their own pasture is well-deserved.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How to Clean a Cow

Step 1:  This is the most important.  You must have a reason to clean your cow because there is quite a bit of work involved as cows and cleanliness are natural enemies.  Perhaps you think your cow smells bad or lacks personal hygiene.  Perhaps you are selling your home and want only really shiny animals grazing in your pastures.  Or, like us, maybe you signed up to bring ten clean cows to the fair in two and half weeks. 

Step 2:  Have a friend bring a grooming chute and a blower to your place (unless you happen to own these cow grooming items yourself).  This contraption is actually quite simple.  It has a floor, two side bars and a simple head catch in the front with a ring to tie your cow's halter to.  The blower is essentially a reverse vacuum with a long hose.  It's used to blow against the cow's hair to dislodge any sand or grit left behind after they're bathed and dried.  Also essential is a friend that knows exactly which wild hairs on your cow would be considered offensive and which may stay put.

Step 3:  Wet your cow slowly, beginning with her hooves and moving upwards so you don't shock with a sudden spray of ice cold water.  Fortunately for our cows, Extreme Makeover Cow Edition was held not only on a warm day, but the well water itself was warm.  CAUTION:  Do not spray your cow's face.  She will not like it and bad things could happen (she could flip the chute by suddenly throwing her weight backwards).

Step 4:  Find a warm, sunny place to tie your cow to dry.  Make sure there is clean, thick bedding beneath her or she will do everything in her bovine power to dirty herself. 

Step 5:  Once she is dry, she gets the blower treatment.  I was quite surprised how well our cows tolerated this.  They stood quietly while their hair was blown against the grain.  Maybe it feels good, like a ride in a convertible along a beach road.

Step 6:  The clippers.  By now, your cow has patiently stood in the grooming chute twice and tolerated very unnatural things.  She has probably had it with you and your treats and would like to go some place grassy and shady to rest and chew cud in peace.  So what happens next is an affront to all of cowdom.  A ticklish, vibrating, metal device, which sounds remarkably like a rattling snake or angry hornet, is moved all around her shoulders, belly, and then, her face.  Nope, not happening.  We tried that evil plot against Tina and she put her hoof down.  So she, along with all of her bovine comrades, will go to the fair cleaned up, wild offending hairs clipped, and their faces shaggy, thankyouverymuch.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ruby Red Cow's Final Test

So, last time we left off in this bovine saga, I was mentally dressing Ruby out into various cutlets.  She has come around quite a bit since then. I can get within five feet of her and she moves away quietly instead panicking. No aggressive behaviors for at least two months. She doesn't trust other people but I am tolerated fairly well.  The hoof trimmer was out yesterday.  When he passed by the bullpen, she panicked and ran to the other side.  I thought about it quite a bit and determined that she wasn't ready so I wouldn't push her.  The trimmer will be back this summer.  In the meantime, for obvious reasons, I need to be able to bring this cow into our rather simple gate chute for regular vaccines and de-worming.  I had not run her into the chute yet.  The report from the vet school when she went to be de-horned, was that she was so nuts that she tried to climb out of everything and they had to dart her with a tranquilizer gun!  She wasn't yet due for anything (thanks to me providing the de-worming drench and vaccines to the vet school for her while she was under) but this was a major test.  I decided that if I couldn't handle her in our facilities, she had to go.  My dear husband politely inquired about eating her just this past week.  

My plan was simple:
Step 1:  Bring her into the holding pen and run her into the chute with hubby standing by to help me secure it.  
Step 2:  Give her some feed in a bucket and leave her alone to settle down in there (hoping she doesn't climb out or tear it to pieces trying to escape).
Step 3:  If she and the chute are still intact after about 20 or 30 minutes, try to see if I could get a halter on her to drag for a week with the vain hope of further gentling.  
Step 4:  Release the beast.

So, Step 1 and 2 went better than expected.  One red cow in one homemade chute.  She was not happy, but she was inside of it as opposed to tap dancing on my head or running down the road with her tail held high after tearing down two fences.  So far, so good.  When I came back after the requisite time, she was still struggling against the chute but when I carefully tried to slip the halter on her head, she gave me a curious look and thrust her nose right in!   Surprised me so much that there was a momentary exchange of bewildered looks before I came to my senses and buckled the halter.  She was still fretting about the chute so I started talking to her and slowly began to stroke her back.  It was the first time I've ever touched her red coat.  After about five minutes of gently petting her on both sides, she quieted down.  I let her smell my hands (which smelled like her now) and then let her out of the chute.  She had earned her ticket into the regular herd.   I turned her out with the 15 month old babies (Bonny, Cloe, Daisy and Arnold).  I watched the little scuffles as rank was determined.  At the end of it, she was being quietly worshiped by all the babies.  She looks quite content to be with them.  All are on equal ground because they all have halters with trailing leads.  I won't try to touch Ruby's until she's taught herself for about a week by stepping on it.  I don't know if the halter-breaking refresher will work, but she has earned a spot in the herd nonetheless.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Halter Houdinis

All four 15 month old calves, Bonny, Cloe, Arnold and Daisy, were haltered in the swing gate chute almost two weeks ago.  We attached lead ropes for them to drag to assist in their lead training.  Two days later, Cloe was wearing her halter around her neck and Arnold's was laying in the dirt. I created a new hole to tighten the halters and then, once again, I shooed them down the lane and locked them in the chute to re-halter them.  One day later, Bonny got her lead rope off.  Back in the chute she went.   Arnold and Daisy were tied up, fed and lead around on Saturday (they did quite well).  There was a day of peace before both Bonny and Arnold lost their halters.  By this time, they are all pros.  I simply open the gate leading to the lane and point.  The cows just march right in to await re-haltering.  Last night was lesson number two and all the cows enjoyed the brushing.  Cloe and Bonny were led around a little as well as Daisy and Arnold.  This morning, everyone still had their halters on.  Either I finally got them properly fitted or the cows are putting them back on themselves. 

Here's the tally, for those keeping score:

Bonny: 2
Arnold: 2
Cloe: 1
Daisy: 1
Me: -6

On another note, Ruby, the wild red cow, is much better.  I put Porterhouse, our dairy steer, in with her and he seems to have helped her recognize humans as a force for good, rather than evil.  She has gained a lot of weight as well.  I have high hopes that she give us a calf next year.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Allie's Story

It was summer 2005 and I was surfing the internet from my warship while stationed just off the coast of Iraq.  Ten minutes on the computer after my midnight watch was all I could really hope for.  I was looking for my next horse.  I wanted a mare, like my first horse, and I wanted her to be built to last in conformation.  Scrolling through the ads with photos, I saw her.  She was called 'Bailey' and described as a black Arabian.  I wasn't necessarily looking for an Arabian but she was put together so well.  Endurance type mare with good leg angles and a nice short-coupled body.  I yawned and logged off the computer.  I thought about her for the next several days before responding to the ad.  I would be home in a few weeks and I would like to come see her, if she was still available.

Within a few days of arriving home, I was on my way south to North Carolina (my farm was in Virginia back then) to check out this intriguing mare.  I tried to interest myself in other horses, Paints, QHs, etc. but something about this one stuck with me.

She nuzzled me over her stall door when I first met her.  She really was a sweet mare with intelligence and grace.  The current owner had trouble with her on the trail but her arena and ground manners were quite good.  Bailey had bolted home a few times and scared the owner.  I was told that Bailey could not even be led through the woods behind the pasture.  I asked if I could test her out there, just leading her.  The owner reluctantly agreed.  I walked the mare down the trail speaking to her with a happy, confident voice.  She balked and trembled.  I asked her to take a step and rewarded her bravery when she responded.  Soon, we were walking all through the scary woods and I knew I could train this mare.

When I hauled Bailey home late that summer, I was happy to have another horse to train now that I was on shore duty and had too much time on my hands.  Two months later, I met Mike and we were married the following spring.  He helped me pick a new name for her (I never liked Bailey).  Alexandria seemed to fit her much better (Allie for short).  Phoenix and Donkey adored her immediately.  She was even in our wedding. 

When we moved down south to Florida, Allie adjusted well.  The pastures were bigger and, in no time, we had an even better barn built for the three horses.   She learned to work the cattle and I continued to accustom her to the local trails.  However, a baby can change everything.  I did not ride while I was pregnant nor did I know how soon I would be able to ride once our son was born.  Meanwhile, Allie paced and quarreled with the other horses without regular work.  I watched her impatience sadly and decided that, if I found the right person, I would sell her.

A mother and daughter came and rode her very well.  They seemed conscientious and knowledgeable.  They seemed perfect.  Allie left us in December of 2008 for her new home.

Two weeks before Christmas 2010, I had a rare moment with nothing pressing and our son was napping.  I was also waiting for my husband to finish his computer game.  I browsed the internet and ended up on our local Craigslist,  I avoid CL because of the sad horse ads.  So many free or cheap horses that you just know get snatched up by a kill buyer that shows up with a trailer and says all the right things.  One such gentleman lives not too far from us.  His pastures fill with the condemned for about 30 days and then *POOF*, one day, they are nearly all gone.  One "free horse" ad caught my eye.  I still don't know why I opened it up.  I knew it would be another sad horse destined for a slaughterhouse in Mexico, but thank God I did click on it.  It was a black Arabian mare.  It was Allie.  I held my breath for a moment staring at the picture.  She was the right age and had all the right markings and she was lame?!  I responded to the ad and waited, terrified that I was too late.

It was those same 'perfect' people I sold her to.  She was lame in her hind end, apparently 'slipping' so severely while being ridden that the owner was afraid she would fall.  The owner said she had EPM as well.  I was so angry that the owner did not call me before placing this ad and putting Allie in danger.  I had told her time and time again that I would take her back or even board her for free, if need be (the daughter was in the military).  I knew if I hadn't seen that ad, Allie would be on her way in a crowded double-decker cattle truck.  I also knew that a lame horse had little chance of making such a trip without further injury or even death.  I kept my cool and researched EPM treatments while awaiting anxiously for the owner to deliver Allie.  The owner called and canceled the delivery.  I was so frustrated at this point that I arranged to pick her up.

When I arrived, Allie was already haltered and ready to go.  According to the 'perfect' owner, Allie had shown signs of lameness for a year, but, from what I gathered, she had never been seen by a vet!  The EPM theory came from the owner and her barn owner at the fancy little stable (why board at a fancy stable if you can't afford basic care?).  I handed them a checklist for EPM symptoms and asked them to check all that apply so I had something for my vet to go by when he saw her the next day (I had already made the appointment).  They talked about her being lame in her left hind end, possibly in the hip, and always on the same side (not typical with EPM but right on for a lameness issue).  I asked if there were any facial symptoms and the answer was 'no'.  Hmm, sounded like a lameness, not EPM to me but I kept my mouth shut and didn't get my hopes up.  I loaded her up as quickly as possible, even signing the ridiculous 'adoption form' the owner had found on the internet stating something about giving her back should I not be able to care for her properly (isn't this exactly what I was doing!?).

On my way out of town (I had picked Allie up in Gainesville) I reviewed what I knew about my beloved mare.  Then, I called up my vet and since he was mobile and hip x-rays are not possible, I canceled the next day's appointment.  I also called University of Florida Large Animal Hospital and asked if they had an appointment that same day.  I quickly told the receptionist the story about my lame/EPM re-claimed horse.  They agreed to work us in, so I made a U-turn when I was almost out of Gainesville.  Allie would be seen now and x-rays would be done, if necessary.  She would get a spinal tap to test for EPM, if necessary.  I mentally decided how many of the cows I would have to sell to pay her vet bills.  I was scared about the report of her slipping and what it could possibly mean.  She seemed okay walking up into the trailer, but that told me nothing.  What if she was so advanced in EPM that there was no treatment?  What if I was just saving her to be euthanized?  I wiped away tears as I drove on to the vet school. 

When I arrived, the vet school placed Allie in a stall and John and I watched as her exam was done.  She flinched when they touched her left stifle.  I told them all I knew and showed them her old records from when I owned her and the new ones (nothing had been done except one set of vaccines two years prior and a couple of chiropractic visits).  An extensive lameness exam was done in front of several specialists.  When it was over, they were smiling.  They all had heard the story about the "re-claimed Craigslist horse" (the receptionist had told them).  They also knew that I was happy to take back my mare despite a possibly severe neurological condition and lameness.  They told me that Allie didn't have EPM and her lameness was very mild and quite manageable.  She has upward patellar fixation in her left stifle.  That's it!  I was given the all clear to begin slowly returning her to condition, after she lost some weight.  The best thing for her is proper conditioning and regular work.  I was so happy to hear that my poor Allie was going to be fine, after all!  It was truly an early Christmas present to have my sweet mare back home safe and (mostly) sound.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lead Training

We are currently on a wait-list to exhibit our cattle at the local county fair.  They do not meet the weight requirements for any of the classes (Dexters are just too little) so they would be just there as a breed exhibition.  We put halters on the yearlings and they are dragging their lead ropes.  They were very easy to halter and I look forward to refreshing their training over the next month.  All of our Dexters (except Ruby) readily come when called and take treats from your hand.  I have had many visitors here on our farm and they are accustomed to being hand-fed by strangers as well.  Next week, we plan to start some basic leading and brushing.  I can't wait to watch them learn how to be even more tame and personable.  Each has such a distinct personality.  Bonny is our little dun heifer and escape artist.  Cloe is Bonny's best friend and eager follower.  She is also the first one present when the treats are passed out.  Arnold is our steer and a bit more spunky.  But he calms down quickly with quiet handling.  Daisy is the baby of the group and our little swimmer.  On hot days, she climbs into the water trough.  Once the yearlings are trained, we will move on to the three mama cows and their newest calves.

After our failure in the round pen, I changed my approach with Ruby, the mean cow.  She settled nicely in the bull pen, which is located just around the corner from the barn.  Twice a day I carried her grain to her and dumped it over the fence into her feeder.  From the time she first spots me coming around the corner until I dump her feed takes about 15 seconds.  If, during that time, she showed any sign of aggression (pawing, flipping her head) I turned right around and disappeared back around the corner.  After about ten seconds, I tried to approach again.  It did not take her long to connect the two and she began to wait politely for her food.

After it became routine, however, she tested me again by flipping her head or pawing right before or during the delivery of the feed.  A new tactic was needed.  I began to carry a stick with me and if I saw these signs as I was delivering her feed, I whacked the stick on the fence along with a sharp "No!"  She was quite frightened of the stick at first but grew more and more bold again.  Finally, one day she charged the fence to test me.  I whacked her once on the head (not where her horns were) and gave her a sharp "No!" She backed off immediately and has been polite since.  I have not seen any aggression but I do carry the stick with me during each feeding and if I have to enter her pen.  I think she understands the rules and that I am boss cow, but I don't know if I will ever be able to trust her.  I still wonder about clicker training and I hope that when the bull arrives to share her pen, (he is a sweetheart and treat hound) she will start looking for treats as well.  If that happens, I will try the clicker training again. 

On a good note, her weight is looking very good and I think she feels much better.  She can interact with our other Dexters over the fence but she must remain separate until this years' calves are weaned.  She seems much more relaxed and happy these days and I look forward to seeing how she does with the red bull that will be her suitor in a few months.  If she settles in calf, then we get to the next step.  If she doesn't, she will be sold.  Her behavior after her calf is born will determine her future.  If her aggression returns, she will be sold and her calf will be hand-reared.  If she is polite and not excessively protective of her calf (she will be with the other mamas by then), she will stay and enjoy raising her calf herself.  I do hope that she will continue to reform and return to the apparently gentle animal she was back when she was a show calf, or at least, the cooperative cow she was with the previous owners.  I really believe that something triggered this behavior and she still might come around.  The previous owner believes it might have been the long trailer ride to get out here to Florida.  Based on reports of her being fine before she got here, I honestly do not think this is a bad temperament so I am giving her as many chances as I feel I can safely give her.