Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

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.  


  1. I am new to cattle, year 3 with Red Polls and some beef Devon steers. Hopefully we will have 3 Red Poll calves next spring. I love my cows, and the steers too. We even are boarding a very gentle Red Poll bull, Sir George. Hopefully if he has done his job, he will have 3 babies next spring. I want to look into learning how to clicker train cattle. Your site came up as the only hit. I read the three posts on Ruby, congratulations!
    I hope to retire in the next year or two and am interested in learning how to train some cattle for draft work. I am a complete novice, no halter work, no showing, no fairs etc. I just love my bovine friends (even the ones we eat). I have started to research ox training and am not thrilled with the take 'em away from mom, horned, wooden yoke, tie 'em up in a stall at night routine. I think there must be a more humane way to have draft animals. After reading some Temple Grandin books, I started thinking about clicker training. If it works for horses why not cattle. I also am interested in using a harness on the cattle instead of the wooden yoke. Tiller's International has an article on the benefits of a harness versus a yoke: more comfortable for the animal; one animal in a harness can equal two in a wooden yoke; no horns needed to back up and a few other benefits that I can't remember right now.
    So, I started thinking maybe I can combine these ideas together as a way to train oxen. Does this sound absolutely crazy? I hope not.
    Can you give any references for books or articles that I might read to begin both learning how to just halter train a calf or cow, and good clicker training basics? Any help or suggestions would be warmly appreciated.
    I live in central VA, have one cow, Peaches; one heifer calf, Petunia - her daughter this past spring; two hopefully pregnant, 2 year old heifers Sylvia and Greta, 2 steer, Ham and Burger, and 3 just weaned steers- to be named soon. I lost my other 2 year old heifer to rabies at the end of August, Elsie. Our goal is to have 4 breeding cows and most offspring will be processed for meat.
    I will read the rest of your blogs as time allows. 8:30 pm and I am off to bed. I work full time with 4 year old's during the day. I do get holidays and summers off, otherwise I couldn't do this. My life reads like a Sylvia comic, various things by day and a super cow girl at night! Did I mention that I am 61 years old and a grandma to many?
    virginia dawnswir

  2. I'm sorry I didn't respond earlier. I couldn't find any references to clicker training cattle either but there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn't work. The first obstacle is finding a small enough treat that they like and getting your timing down with clicking and treating. Once you get there, anything is possible. Just break down what you want them to do into very small steps and go slow. Are yours halter trained? That would be the first step. Put them into the chute, halter them, and let them out. That will help them get used to the feel of the halter. Call them, click/treat when they come to you. Get coming when called down perfectly. Reward them for letting you take the halter on and off without using the chute. Once they have that down, then, reward them for putting the lead rope on. The next step is too hard to do by hand. You'll need to tie them and let them learn that when they stop pulling back, the tension is released. You must have a very sturdy, strip of fencing to do this. Your posts needs to be sunk deep in the ground and the fence should be solid enough that they can't catch a leg in it if they struggle. It helps to tie them with just enough lead rope that they can eat from a bucket right next to the post. They will teach themselves. Wait until they are standing tied quietly and here is where you will start to make real progress. You must also teach them to lead. Untie them, get a good hold of the lead rope, and pull just enough to put tension on their heads. They will pull back sharply at first. Wait for the very slightest give on the rope, click/treat and ease tension, all at the same time (hard to do). That just taught them to give into the pressure by moving the way they are being pulled. This is not natural for them and will take awhile, but be patient. They will be leading like champs in no time. Start using "Gee" and "Haw" right away when you lead them. Say it right before you make the turn so they learn to associate. Eventually, they will start the turn when you say the word. Click/treat. Once you can go out to the pasture, slip a halter on the cow, lead her in, and tie her, you can do many things. Feed her each and every time you bring her in. Then, you can get her used to anything, including the harness. Go slowly, watch for agitation and don't try to push her too fast. Best of luck to you!

    1. Looks like we are in the dame time frame for getting to blogs! I am still researching clicker training, harness and ox, now possible riding a steer or cow. Still not much out there on either clicker training bovines or collar harness. I keep looking and when I finally halter train a calf or two I hopefully will be ready. Thanks so much for you time answering my questions.
      virginia dawnswir.
      My herd update: Got 3 out of four calves this past spring, one failed birth - breech - found her in labor too late. Juanita recovered fine, though. I am raising a bull calf, now yearling, Juanita's son, Jorge. This is a new adventure in and of itself. His dad, Sir George is a real gentle guy. Jorge and his mom Juanita joined us last December. He has been raised with his mom (though weaned at about 9 mos) and has been with the big bossy girls since he he joined us. I am hoping he will learn good herd manners and be a gentle easy going bull like his dad.