Cattle,  Fauna

Halter Training an Eight Month Old Calf

Three days ago, we finally found our clean new rope halter in the mail. Three days ago we placed that very same halter on our calf knowing full well what it’s going to be dragged through!

Our homestead has become a lot quieter and calmer since selling our “future” dairy cow (read more about why we did that here). That being said, we decided to keep her calf to grow out. Unlike his mother, Mort is a gentle soul, and doesn’t seem to have an aggressive bone in his body. After the first few days of separation had passed, he comfortably stepped in with our daily routine.

Despite being a Dexter, which is a small breed of cattle, and only seven months old at the time, even young steers still have a bit of strength behind him. I tried wrapping my arms around his chest and holding him back at one point, and nearly ended up in the mud! After our experiences with Gala, we knew we needed a safe method of catching Mort, and bringing him where he needs to be.

Mr BirdCat got in on the picture taking fun to snap this one

So we ordered a halter! I wasn’t too sure what to get, but after some reading decided a rope halter would most likely work for us. He wouldn’t keep it on in the general day-to-day past the initial breaking in, so we could use something that we could easily slip over his head and adjust as he grows. Did I mention Dexter cows are small? Another thing about a rope halter is its ability to be adjusted down and fit a smaller-than-average steer face.

It took a fair while for the halter to arrive in the mail due to the overloading of the postal services from Covid…but we used our time wisely. Originally, Mort wouldn’t let us near him, which simply wouldn’t do. Can’t easily catch an animal in the paddock if it keeps running away from you! We added him into our morning routine, and where Gala would normally get some treat grain, he got a little bit instead. We also offered him goodies from the veggie patch throughout the day, so he’d get used to eating from our hands — beetroot tops, and silverbeet are two favourites!

A way to a cow’s heart is through their stomach. Oh, and brushes, and good deep pats. Over the course of a few weeks, Mort went from panicking wherever we were near him, to calling out to us just to get a scratch. By the time the halter finally arrived and we placed it on him, he hardly made a fuss.

Until we tried to walk him anywhere:

Mort showing his unappreciation of the new halter — that’s a lot of weight pulling back!

We tied him to a strong post next to water and food, and left him. One thing I’ve read and heard said over and over again, is you can’t let them win a pulling contest with you. Not even once. Cows are smart, and they don’t forget! Something he can’t win against is a solid post, so that’s what he gets to fight! The first day we had him tied there for an hour. The second day for half a day. Today being the third day, I reckon he can have a break…not sure if I’m going too soft on him…but he is already leaps and bounds better! Leaving the rope trailing behind him as well, he’ll learn by stepping on it and feeling the tension in his face, getting even more used to the feelings of it.

I decided to take Mort out of his pen to walk with me to get some grain in his bucket, and it was so much fun. He happily trotted alongside me, ignoring Milo jumping around his feet. Of course, only a few days in he still has points where he doesn’t want to be on the halter, and will pull back, but already those points are becoming fewer and farther between. I took him out for a walk again just before writing this post, and he eagerly came along with me and helped mow some of the grass in the yard.

We’ll keep Mort on the halter for another week and a half or so. Judging by his quick learning so far, I have no doubt by then it’ll just seem natural to him and we can take it off. The real trick then will be teaching him to happily get it back on again at any point of the day! With that in place, I imagine we’ll have a much more manageable adult steer on our hands, and it’ll create a safer environment for everyone.

Have you had any experiences halter breaking cattle? Any tried and true tips? Let us know in the comments below!

Milo and Mort, each doing what they do best

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