Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Celtic Festival Adventure

I must admit that one of my favorite things to do is to share gentle animals with people that don't normally have a chance to see them, especially children.  Our son is lucky enough to grow up on a farm (although ask him how lucky he feels in a few years when he has a list of daily chores) but many, many kids never get to see a real cow, horse, pony or donkey.  All of our animals are friendly and gentle.  Some seem to have a special knack for interacting with children.  Our AQHA gelding, Phoenix, is wonderful with everyone.  Donkeyotee is also exceptional.  Those two enjoy visits from children and even happily trailer out to our son's pre-school or our church picnic to enjoy attention.  Our Shetland Pony, Maggie, has proven to be quite a little ham and has an entire trick routine she does for kids at the Scottish Games every year.  Our small herd of Dexter Cattle are also quite interested in visitors and come running to the fence to inspect for treats or enjoy a little scratch.  Our friendliest cow is Fiona, our son's cow.  It should be no surprise that we agreed to bring a few cows to a local Celtic Festival.  It was held this past weekend in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day next weekend.  I think they started a week early so they could invite the Scots and the Welsh to play, too.

First, a few pictures of the event.  Of course, the Scots brought along their kilts and pipes. 

However, this was surprising...Star Wars stormtroopers....in kilts?!

Our 3 1/2 year old son just saw "Star Wars" for the first time recently (only the original) and was smitten over Princess Leia.  There was a young lady with one of the stormtroopers that our son was absolutely certain was the real Princess Leia.  So, they were nice enough to take a picture with him.

They had so much going on at this festival from a full St. Patrick's Day parade, to character storytellers, beer booths with real Guinness, several Irish and Scottish bands, and even St. Augustine's own pirates joined in the fun.  The predominate color was green followed by Scottish plaid. 

After consulting with our veterinarian, we decided to take Bonny and her very young calf, Gráinne, who was born on March 1st and is healthy and strong.  Bonny is a very affectionate cow with us but more reserved with strangers.  It made me a little concerned about her reaction to strangers near her very young calf but her base temperament is stable and calm so we obtained a health certificate for her and her nine day old calf. 

I tried to consider things from every angle to ensure I was providing for her comfort as well as for the enjoyment of the public.  We parked the trailer behind the portable corral and blocked off the back of the pen with a tarp in case of rain and to provide her with some privacy.  This worked pretty well the first day but she was moving around too much with visitors on three sides to keep an eye on her calf.  The second day, I blocked off an additional side of her corral with the display table and a rope.  This worked out much better and Bonny spent much more time laying down. 

Bonny set her own personal boundaries by happily accepting treats from everyone but bumping people's hands if they tried to pet her.  Most cows hate having their heads petted but many of ours tolerate or even enjoy it.  Bonny likes attention from us but she only allowed a few strangers to pet her head.  I discouraged people from reaching into her corral without a treat to put her more at ease.  I did go into her corral frequently with her and the baby to groom and scratch her favorite spots.  This also helped relax her and showed people just how affectionate cows can be.

People were absolutely enchanted with baby Gráinne.  I also think she will grow up to be one of our most laid back cows after her time spent in the public eye. 

I gave the cows an important break overnight by loading them back up in the trailer. It has high solid walls and is roomy enough for comfort. Lots of hay and water overnight really refreshed them both for the next day. I think they needed the break. I also walked them around a little when I got there in the morning before the event opened for the day. I think that helped quite a bit, too. Calves are most hyper in the early morning and late afternoon so this gave them both a chance to stretch their legs.

I couldn't believe how easy it was to load the cows. I just led them up to the back of the step up trailer (and it's pretty high) and gave them their head so they could jump in. Baby needed a little help to get in but she leaped out all by herself. Gráinne was leading like a pro by the end of the second day.  We normally don't even begin halter training until calves are six months old.  It will fun to see how much she remembers at weaning time. 

The only issue we had were with dogs. Bonny reacted to seeing any dog by walking around and fretting over her calf. The event was posted 'no dogs' but the volunteers at the gate had trouble with a few people that insisted on bringing their dogs in. When the organizer spoke to me, I mentioned it and she was apologetic. The poor kids working the gate gave in when they were yelled at because they couldn't give a good reason. The organizer thanked me for explaining how cows do not like dogs. She said that next year, she will have a good reason to turn dogs away and will enforce it with other folks at the gate, if necessary. The dog owners were nice enough to get there dogs out of sight of the cows when I asked them to, so no real issues. Bonny also calmed right down when I went in the pen and soothed her with my voice and petting. 

Overall, it was a great experience for a lot of kids to see a real live cow and calf and even feed a cow a treat (I had hand sanitizer for them).  I was able to present this breed to the public and answer many questions.  Many people stopped to read the board I put together for the display and our son enjoyed handing out St. Patrick's Day coins, necklaces, silly bands and clovers to kids.  We opted out of the St. Patrick's Day parade this year due to the age of Bonny's calf but next year, Fiona will have an older calf and she would actually do very well in the parade with proper preparation.  I now know what to expect which will help me plan for next year.  I have learned one thing, St. Augustine really knows how to celebrate!