Jane’s progress at 4 months
Jane’s future here depends on her being a good girl. I ignored temperament signs on my last Guernsey heifer because I was so smitten with her being a Guernsey heifer (they are rare) that I lost all my good cow sense. I ignored her dominating behavior with the other calves, and then among other cows older than her. I had left her horns on, and that made matters worse. Don’t get me wrong, cows fight to establish pecking order, but a horned cow with an attitude puts the polled ones at a disadvantage. The biggest thing I disregarded were the few times she hooked me in the back, oh so subtle, but with a purpose. A crack on the horns or on the nose did not have the effect I was used to seeing. By that time she was months away from delivering and I chose to believe (hope) that would all disappear when she freshened. It did not. Her calf was stillborn, and I made the cow with the attitude disappear, right into the freezer. I did not want to invest anymore time and potential injury in her, and I did not feel it was right to send her to the sale barn where some unsuspecting newbie might buy her with hopes of turning her into a nice family cow. So, while I won’t do much different with Jane in her calfhood, I will heed the little voice in my head if I see a problem. So far, Jane is far different than Jetta. She is more timid, not in a pushover way, but in a thinking way. Two weeks with Susie was a crash course in cow chain of command. Now it is her and Ty in the pasture and loafing shed and she defers to him because he is older. He is also a bottle baby but he has a perfect flight zone. He acts more like Della, comfortable with you but still shooable. As in a wave of the hand or a sharp “AH AH” will cause him to move away, yet he will allow me to approach him in the field for a pat or with a halter and lead.
Getting a flight zone established in a bucket calf takes some work, a firm hand and a stick sometimes. Basically what I want in a milk cow is that she respects my space, but allows me in hers when I need to. Milking, doctoring, tending a wobbly newborn all are instances when the cow has to trust me and respect me. A newly freshened cow, no matter how gentle can get a little protective of her newborn. The first week is a long one, even when you and the cow are well versed.
To that end, shaping Jane begins now when she is young. Haltering, leading, tying, come when called are all things she has learned. A huge one in my book is that at feeding time (which will really mean milking time when she is an adult) before she comes to the barn, is that she pees and poops before she eats. It is a natural function, I just need to manipulate it to suit my needs. My beef cows do this before a paddock shift, leaving the manure and urine in the old paddock. Jane does this automatically when she sees me at feeding time. It’s a signal to me, the husbandwoman, that the digestive process is starting. Literally salivating, and that is a good thing. And a healthy productive cow is all about digestion, right? It’s also a signal to me that I don’t have to worry about the cow is going to poop or pee during milking. To me that is a sign of a nervous cow. I don’t want a nervous cow. I want the milking to go smoothly and clean. I have seen recommendations on forums to keep an extra bucket for catching the manure and urine in the milking parlor and if the cow continues, some suggest to even hit the cow with the bucket. Well, I guess, if you have to, but I find just calling the cow, and letting her see me get her food ready before milking causes the evacuation 99.9% of the time outside the barn. I also allow the cow a full manger at milking, so the cow is calm and busy eating, in my setup this is the time for the milk cow to get her special feed without having to battle it out at the feeder. I guess if you have no competitors you could go the route of no feeding or minimal feeding at the stanchion. To me it isn’t so much as beating a cow into submission and teaching her to stand stock still and wait for rewards, but more a relaxing time for me and hopefully the cow. Food prepared, or harvested under stress is stressful food going into your body – it’s OK to go with the flow and let the cow behave the way a cow will behave if her basic needs are met. I’m not saying don’t discipline, but sometimes an open mind can go a long way towards harmony in the barnyard. I grew up whooping and hollering and chasing cows to the corral, I prefer the way the cows behave now, following me to the corral. It’s the same end result just a less stressful way.
A training aid I never thought of until now, turned out to be the electric fence. Discovered by chance, the idea of the electric fence is giving Jane a flight zone. An electric fence is a psychological barrier as opposed to a permanent fence being a physical barrier. Cows are very easy to contain with electric fence, that acts as the predator to the cows who are naturally a prey animal. Permanent fences have to be strong and tight to keep cows in and present no danger to a cow in her mind. And no, I am not shocking Jane with the electric fence, she has done that herself, so she knows exactly where all the electric fence is in her pasture, and in the barnyard.
I don’t want to hold her bucket, because she butts it like an udder trying to get more milk. That is normal calf behavior but calves butt hard. Calf buckets come with a bracket for hanging on a board fence, and there are bottle holders available for bottles, which make feeding much easier. Where I am feeding Jane now just happens to be by an electric fence too. The fence gives her manners that would be hard for me to do in an open field. I turn it off before feeding her, but she has to come to the fence and then wait for me to open the gate that is hooked on the yellow insulator pictured above. She assumes that the fence is on, so she minds her manners. I open the gate and let her drink her milk. She is fully aware that she is near the fence so she stands and drinks. No monkey business. Very nice.
Also, I want her to be used to being touched all over while she is eating, since I will be milking her at feeding time when she is grown, so I use this time to touch her all over, mess with her udder and get in her flight zone. Cows can be protective of their food, so I want to squelch that natural tendency to push me away. This is the perfect age to imprint this in her cow brain. I bring food, I don’t want to take it away from her, I pose no threat. It’s very similar to resource guarding in dogs. I can’t decide which is worse, being bitten by a dog, or hit with cow’s head? I try to make sure both don’t happen.
Jane is learning to be a cow, not a pet. She needs to gentle, but you don’t want a cow in your back pocket when you go in the field. They are awful cute when small, but they grow fast. Jane weaned herself down to 2 feedings a day when I gave her and Ty free rein of a large hayfield. Completely opposite of how I am grazing my beef herd, she is allowed grass that is not quite ready to graze according to me, but according to her is just fine. It’s just too hard and labor intensive to have her a 1/2 to 1 mile away at feeding time. You win some, and you lose some. This will be Jane’s life as the family cow – she will not graze with the herd she will be here at the farmstead grazing in areas I can’t run the beef herd. So I am continuous grazing her and Ty in the hayfield, while not ideal for the productivity of the grass, they are in such a huge area they can hardly make a dent, so it is not the same as having many cows here eating the forage into the ground.
Curious by nature, cows and especially calves love to inspect over and over something different. In this case it’s my daughter trying to get a picture of her. Maybe that leather shoe smells like some long lost relative. I feed no treats in the pasture, and never approach her head, treating her like I do the other cows. Usually I will walk up the side of my cows and depending on the reception, I either go for a brisket rub, or a tail scritch and bag rub. It depends on the cow and also who is around, they get jealous like dogs and can be demanding. So I am always mindful. And with Jane I carry a chestnut or filbert stick (cut between the ram and lamb) in my back pocket – if she gets too close following me or starts to butt she gets a pop on the nose and a loud yell from me. If the initial pop is not enough, she gets a harder one and a sharper yell. Since she has been with the older calf, and got a pop or two she has not attempted to invade my space. Not feeding her every time I see her helps too, she only expects to be fed by me at the barn – and like a normal cow on full grass she is not really hungry so getting a pet from me is what she wants. She has not exhibited any of the common sucking behaviors so often talked about with bucket calves that are minimally fed and weaned early. She drinks milk twice a day and grazes and ruminates the rest of the day, I don’t think it has occurred to her suck herself or the steer because she is satisfied.
The nose is where cattle get a lot of their information. Cows have a very strong sense of smell, and it is usually wet like a dog’s nose unless they are sleeping. It’s also what they touch the electric fence with for that lasting imprint about the “dangerous” wire, or a good place to deliver the switch for a lasting memory. Continual beating and prodding shouldn’t be necessary, if they are, examine what you’re doing, not what the cows are doing. It may be a handling or attitude problem (human not cow.) No need to be proud of carrying 2 x 4 when you can carry a small switch or crop.
This is all the “training” Jane will get now, just basic handling and learning to get used to things like the dogs, air compressors, running equipment etc. Just normal things she will have to walk by to get to her milking area when she is full grown.