Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

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.