Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tara and Tina are coming home

In 1993, I began working with cattle while in college at Colorado State University after being inspired by my advisor, Dr. Temple Grandin.  I worked as a calf feeder at a dairy, wrangled on a bison ranch, and worked extensively with CSU's herd during calving season. These were large operations and the learning curve was high. At times, it was like taking a drink from a fire hose. I was hooked. I also worked with a local mobile vet. Of all the client's herds we cared for, my favorite were the little Dexter cattle at one ranch.  After reading up on their history, I learned about their origins in Ireland.  After college, I joined the US Navy.  I did a little research about Dexters from time to time while I was serving in the military and dreamed of a farm of my own.

In 2003, while I was still serving as a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy, I bought my own farm in Virginia near where my ship was home-ported. I raised some commercial cattle at first to get a feel for the land. It was much different than raising cattle out west. Finally, one year before I was to be stationed on shore duty, I contacted a Dexter cattle breeder in Missouri. They had some very nice looking animals.  I arranged to drive out to their farm in September 2005 and pick up three 6 month old Dexter heifers, Tina, Tara, and Trudi. I would be returning from the war in August 2005 so I had enough time to prepare for my new arrivals.

A week before the trip, tragedy struck as Hurricane Katrina smashed the gulf coast. I looked at my big, empty, stock trailer that I would be hauling halfway across the country and formulated a plan. I dropped the trailer off on base in a prominent location and sent a message out inviting people to fill it full of school kits and personal hygiene kits. One week later, I left Norfolk, Virginia for Missouri with my two dogs in the cab of my truck, bedding, hay, camping equipment, and buckets in the pick-up bed, and a trailer crammed full of goodies for Hurricane victims.  I delivered the goods to the Salvation Army in Tennessee. They would be loading an 18 wheeler immediately to take supplies to one of the locations for displaced victims.

I left very early in the morning and pushed through all the way to Tennessee that first night to ensure the donations were delivered ASAP. The dogs and I found a hotel in Tennessee and then headed towards Arkansas the next morning.  We reached the Ozarks after dark and had to feel our way through strange mountain towns. Finally, at about 10:00 pm, we arrived at the cattle ranch in Missouri. The rancher was also a military veteran and had already insisted that I stay with his family instead of finding a hotel.

The next morning, we caught up my new heifers, haltered, vaccinated, and loaded them up for their trip home. They had the run of the big three-horse trailer. Shaving provided thick bedding, hay was piled on the sides, and a large tub of water was secured in the corner. I entered twice a day to play with them and feed them grain in their individual buckets (Tara has the green bucket and Tina has the blue).

We hauled out early the next morning and made it to an RV campground just over the border into Kentucky. The park owners were amused at the calves in my trailer. The dogs and I slept in the little tack-room area. We awoke early to the thumping of calves playing in the trailer. They had enough room to romp and took full advantage of it.

At a gas station the next day, a cattle truck, crammed full of steers, pulled in to refuel next to us. My girls were strangely quiet as they watched the random flashes of crowded cattle move behind the round holes in the sides of the huge double-decker trailer. A big, brown, eye peered out to the calves and some mooing was exchanged. It was a strange moment.

That night, I talked my way into staying at the Kentucky Horse Park's campground. The manager said I'd have to leave if the calves mooed too much. I only wanted a few hours sleep, so I promised that we'd be gone before the sun came up. My cows were quiet all night. 

A year later, I was married and out of the Navy. My husband and I took two trips with the stock trailer to haul, first the Dexter cows, then, our two horses and donkey, down to our new farm in Florida.

Florida was a whole new challenge to raising cattle. We are high and dry on our new farm in northern Florida, so it is similar to the west but the porous sandy soil means that their hooves must be trimmed because they don't wear naturally as they would on hard ground. 

Tara and Tina gave us Easter and April the following spring.  We sold Trudi because of some temperament issues.  

Over the next several years, Tina, Tara, and Tina's daughter, April, helped us grow our herd into a nice size.  

In 2011, we signed up to take ten cows to the local fair.  We had to dehorn Tina and Tara because of the fair rules.  They are at the far end in this picture from the Clay County Fair.

Our herd was too big at this point, so we sold Tina and Tara to a gentleman just starting out in Dexters.  This is one of the last pictures I have before he picked them up.  Tina is the black cow in the middle and Tara is the bigger dun cow behind her.

They had been bred to our bull, so this was a perfect "Dexter starting kit".  It seemed like a good home.  In 2013, however, I received a call from a lady in central Florida telling me a sad tale.  Tina and Tara had been left to starve in someone's pasture (not the person we sold them to).  This nice lady had picked them up cheap and brought them back to health.  She used them for milking for several years. 

This year, just before Easter, she asked us if we wanted to buy them back.  Since we are a small farm and bit light on cows at the moment, it seems like good timing.  There is also, of course, the emotional attachment one experiences when working with animals.  Tina and Tara were always easy to handle and nice to work with.  We are looking forward to bringing them home.  Cattle remember each other, even after several years.  In our herd, we have two daughters of Tina.  It will be fun to see how they interact when they are reunited.  

In addition, our bull was new when we sold them, so we never saw any calves from breeding Tina and Tara to our bull, Armstrong.  Hopefully, we will finally get that chance next year.  

I will post a picture of them, or maybe even a video of their reunion with their herd, this weekend.  :)

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