Monday, December 3, 2007

Teaching a Cow to Lead

Pumpkin, our recently purchased Jersey cow, was not "lead trained" when we bought her, meaning she essentially did not know how to walk on a leash. Most cows in dairies are herded where they need to go, and use an elaborate system of gates, pens, and chutes to get the cows into the correct areas. Most dairies deal with so many cows, they just don't have time to lead train each cow.

The problem we could encounter is if we ever wanted her to load into a trailer. Cows don't like enclosed spaces like trailers and, having no incentive to go in one, all the herding in the world will only get you in a wild cow chase around the pen. So, lead training is necessary in case we ever need to use that technique to load her.

So, I've gotten my first experience in lead training the last couple of weeks. I'm convinced this process would have been MUCH more difficult if Pumpkin wasn't as sweet as she is. I started by putting a halter on her, which looks like this:

She's never had one on before, and didn't want this weird thing clinging to her face. We had to lure her into the stanchion and lock her in to get it on. She danced and threw her head every which way, but we finally got it on.

After letting her get used to wearing it for a day, I chased her around the pen with the lead rope, trying to get it clipped on. That took a while. I finally cornered her in the barn and got it on. Her natural instinct is to pull away so she pulled me all around the pen until I got close enough to a fence post to tie the lead rope off. Then I stood back and let her fight the post for about 10 minutes. She pulled and danced and finally realized the post wasn't going anywhere. After she calmed down I turned her loose and called it a day. The next lesson she fought the fence less, and let me pull her around a little. The point was to get her used to stepping forward when I pulled on the rope. She'd take a few steps and stop. The next lesson she would take a few more steps before stopping, and I didn't have to pull as hard to get her moving forward. Each lesson gets better and better, and we're to the point where I can walk her, somewhat begrudgingly, around the whole pen. Eventually she'll get to where she knows that as soon as the lead rope goes on, she might as well walk where I walk. I won't even have to pull anymore.

We also started lead training Meatloaf, the calf. He had the same reaction as Pumpkin, but a 40 lb calf is a lot easier to control. He's getting better and better, but in the beginning he would get sick of being pulled around and just flop over on his side. It was pretty much the equivilant of a calf tantram. He then refused to get up until you take the rope off. It was pretty funny.

I really didn't want to have to lead train when we bought Pumpkin, but she's responding really well to it, and I'm gaining experience in handling cattle. Learning new farm skills is always fun.

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