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.