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Fit to be tied

March 18, 2010

I guess I should have worded my last post a little differently.  I am not bored, I am boring in an easily amused way.  Thanks to all of you who commented and left such glowing remarks.  I think what I need to do is look at things that I see as everyday, chop wood – haul water type of things, and blog about that.   So with that in mind here is a tutorial of sorts about tethering the family cow.

Center – 20 foot long lead for tethering.

We rotationally graze our beef herd, but they may be as much as mile away from the barn at times, so it doesn’t really work to manage everybody the same way.  Della needs to be close.  She doesn’t need to expend any calories walking unless she is eating, and the same goes for grazing cattle, they shouldn’t have to walk more than a quarter mile to water.  I know range cattle are run differently but I don’t live on the range, I just live vicariously through Linda 😉  So my cows lead a pampered, wussy life, their water is moved to each paddock.  The other problem with grazing her with the other cattle, is that it is stressful to cut one out of the herd, to them and ultimately to me.  Do that twice a day for awhile and you will quickly come up with another plan.

So Della gets to be literally the house cow, as they say across the pond and everywhere but here.  Here a family cow is usually called a milk cow to differentiate her from beef cows.  We do some creative electric fencing in the headlands of the gardens, and in hayfield perimeters but I also tether Della and her calf a lot.  I halter break my milk cow’s calves before they are 1 week old.  After that, it becomes much harder, they are very strong.  I don’t bottle feed, but allow Della to raise them, they just have a college education by the time they are weaned.  They lead, tie, and respond to our voice.  I have found dam raised calves to be much more amenable to training than bucket raised calves.  I am the person that leads them to their meal, whether milk or grass, they don’t view me as Mom, but as their human “who is strong enough to pull them around forever.”


Some people tie with chains which won’t really tangle, but I like poly rope.  It is lightweight, and fairly inexpensive, and is easier to tie to a post or tree depending on where I want the grass mowed.  I always check the feed store sale bin, sometimes there are lengths of this poly rope that weren’t cut the right length for a customer and I can pick them up at sale price.

L – R, heavy duty snap with swivel, cold shut, and rope clamp.

Material list for 20′ tie out lead:

♣  25′ length of poly rope
♣    5′ feet lightweight chain
♣   Ring
♣   2 cold shuts (not quick links)
♣  heavy duty snap with swivel (important that this is strong, this is the weakest link)
♣  rope clamp ( optional)

Assemble in the following order:  Attach the snap to end of chain with a cold shut ( a vise comes in handy for this), attach ring to the other end of chain with cold shut.  Tie one end of rope to ring with a secure knot and fasten the loose end with rope clamp.  Tie knot in the end of poly rope and you’re done.  The knot in the end is for you to have a hand hold, it doesn’t have to be as decorative as Hangdog made mine.


When tethering make sure the snap is fastened facing the back of the cow.  This way if your cow is tied near a fence they can’t snap themselves to the wire as easily.  Just when you think your cow or calf won’t reach through that fence, or itch their chin, they do.  If you happen to look out the kitchen window and they haven’t moved in a while, check to make sure they aren’t standing there patiently waiting for you to come rescue them.  I don’t leave the farm when I have an animal tethered near a fence.


For your safety and if you need to unhook the rope quickly, it is nice to lead them with the snap facing the front of the cow.  If the snap is hooked the other way it will be harder to get off in a hurry.  Always have an escape plan in mind, and if nothing else you can always let go of the rope.  Which brings me to another reason I like the poly rope, it can be cut if need be, a chain would be hard to cut if animal got bound up in some contorted fashion.  I always have my pocket knife, rarely do I even know where the bolt cutters are.

With the swivel snap the rope will swivel and not bind up as the animal moves around.  It won’t keep them from wrapping themselves around a tree, but it will keep them from choking themselves.

Important tips, safety and otherwise for your live rear-bagger lawn mower:

♥  The snap must be a swivel snap of design that is easy for you to use, and hard for the animal to un-snap.  This style has worked the best for me over the years, others not so much.

♥  Teach the animal to lead.

♥  Teach the animal to stand quietly while tied before ever thinking of tethering.

♥  If tying to a post, tie your rope down low.   If you tie up high, the cow may pull the post over, or the rope may slip off.

♥  Never tie an animal to something that will move.

♥  Avoid areas with lots of metal debris common around farms.  Cows are non-discriminatory ruminants, tearing off clumps of grass and swallowing for later rumination.  Hardware disease is no fun, avoid it if you can.

♥  Never tie an animal within reach of poisonous plants that they may eat.  Many plants are poisonous, but not all will be eaten, learn what plants are harmful to livestock  in your area.  Reach is subjective to a cow, if there is something they want they have magical powers and can stretch a 20′ rope into a 25′ rope plus tongue length.

♥  Never tie an animal next to a bank that it can fall over.  My neighbors cow broke her neck tethered next to a deep ditch.  She slipped, lost her balance and as she fell, her horns got stuck in the bank, she flipped and snapped her neck.  He was expecting milk when he got home and he ended up with a freezer full of hamburger.  It’s just easier to weed-eat that edge if you ask me … .

♥  A cow will naturally graze at the end of the rope,  if you want a clean graze, give her half the length for the first few hours, the let it out and re-tie later.  Otherwise, she will waller down all the grass and not eat it.

♥  It’s a known fact that cows drink more water when you carry it to them in a bucket 😉  Provide water or have the cow drink before grazing.  The other fact about cows and water buckets is that they will tip it over as soon as you leave – if possible secure the bucket or make them wait until later to be led to water.  Our cows usually only drink twice a day anyway, so unless it is unbearably hot, a few hours on lush grass without access to water is not a deal breaker.

♥  Most of all, plan for the worst, and hope for the best.  Bad things rarely happen if you are careful, and think through any possible mishap and tethering can be a useful addition to grazing.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 8:58 am

    What an interesting post. The photos are so good that they should be in a book. In fact, I would love for you to write a book with all of your photos. I know you don’t have the time, but what you are doing and teaching us is amazing.

  2. March 18, 2010 10:02 am

    I’m entertained by just about everything you post!

    That’s pretty much how we tethered our girls. Joy could always manage though to undo just about anything!

    • March 18, 2010 11:17 am

      Diane, they sure can be devils if they want to be! I had watched a two year old steer jump a cattle panel the other day, if I hadn’t seen him do it I wouldn’t have believed it!

  3. March 18, 2010 10:17 am

    Actually, yeah- you should be working on a book deal.

  4. March 18, 2010 10:53 am

    “live rear-bagger lawn mower”

    I laughed out loud at that one.

  5. Marcia in WY permalink
    March 18, 2010 11:08 am

    LOVE the new format and information! Thanks!

  6. March 18, 2010 11:20 am

    Marcia, I’m a dork – what new format? Speaking of tethering, Della gets almost as excited as the dogs when they see their leashes. Cracks me up.

    • Marcia in WY permalink
      March 18, 2010 3:17 pm

      Wrong term – no actual new format…and I guess you have been doing tutorials all along – I just like the way today’s post read 🙂

  7. March 18, 2010 11:24 am

    We always tethered our milk cow out as well has her calf………when we needed a new cow we always just kept one of the milk cows calves. They knew the routine. When they were just babies we tethered them on a stake pounded in the ground and moves when fresh grass was needed but instead of a halter they were broke to lead and be tied by a front foot. Sounds crazy but it worked. Alas we don’t have a milk cow any more but I sure wish we did for calving at least.

    • March 18, 2010 11:29 am

      I use a stake a lot too, I have an old Model T axle, it’s perfect and they can’t pull it out of the ground. Tying by the foot sounds like a great idea. I usually use a collar on the calves until they get a little bigger. Training them to go forward and then back in next to the cow is always a hoot – but once they get it, they never miss.

  8. March 18, 2010 11:45 am

    I love *all* of your posts. This one was classic Matron – a primer for us beginners.

    I also love your header. It kicks … um … ass.

    • March 19, 2010 5:07 am

      Sarah, long time, no hear. Della would be pleased to hear that, she usually kicks at the camera – this time it was OK for some reason.

  9. March 19, 2010 5:02 am

    Should you ever need additional income, the book idea IS a good one… your writing is just the right blend of funny, entertaining, and instructional, and these topics are future chapters in a “how-to” shared-experience primer that thousands of people would love to read from start to finish and refer to time and again.

    I especially liked the line, “He was expecting milk when he got home and he ended up with a freezer full of hamburger. It’s just easier to weed-eat that edge if you ask me … ” Tragic circumstance, of course, but dang, you made me laugh. Great chapter, my favorite so far!

  10. March 19, 2010 5:04 am

    Oh, and your header photo today – Della’s business end with calf stretching her sides nearly across the screen – awesome. Love it!

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  1. Fit to be tied | Oxen Resources

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