I'm new to the forum. I recently acquired a 3 yo Dexter cow who's bred (not her first calf). She came to me without any knowledge of behavior or handling experience. The past year she's been put with a herd, unhandled.
I'm rusty when it comes to cows, but as a kid I lived in a dairy farm and showed Holsteins in 4h. Need some advice on general cow behavior and getting this cow tamed and trained to lead and tie. She may lead and tie already...I'm not sure! Problem is I can't get near her to even out a halter on and try her out. The first day she charged me and my husband on seperate occasions. I left her alone to settle in and just spent time quietly around her. A week later as she was settling in, I came around the corner of the barn from an area I don't normally walk in and she charged again. Suggestions? Ive contemplated hand feeding some grain, or locking her in the stall for a week and getting a halter in her so I can work on catching her. Any suggestions are welcome!
I'm well aware I didn't buy a "family cow", but she was a good choice for other reasons. If I don't tame her, I plan to breed her next year to a Dexter bull and keep the calf of it's a heifer... And work with it from birth. But id like to try to tame her if possible. She's currently bred to a dexter/ angus cross bull so I'm Not planning to keep the calf.
I would not put up with her aggressive behavior. Carry a livestock cane with you and when she acts aggressive, let her have a good whack on the nose. On the other hand, she may just feel threatened when surprised or when she is in a tight spot. If she has horns, have her dehorned right away. We bought two Dexters with horns, one would also charge us at first. DH put them both in the head chute and dehorned them. That took care of a lot of aggressiveness. Don't ever turn your back on this cow, you may get it from behind. If you can get her in a head catch, put a halter on her along with a rope just long enough for her to step on. When she steps on the rope she will learn to give with the pressure. This will take three or four days and is best accomplished while the cow is in a small lot. That way you can keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn't get her rope caught on anything. Putting her in a small lot will also give her a chance to get acquainted with you. Start out slow by feeding her through the fence. When she has lost her shyness, try going inside to feed her. If she shows no sign of aggressive, then you can try touching her while she is eating her grain. But by all means be very careful with this cow, she could be dangerous.
It is very difficult to make recommendations without seeing the animal. At this age, she could be difficult to reach the level you desire. However, I would suggest you keep her in a confined area and spend as much time around her as possible so she gets to know you, and hopefully begin to build a relationship. If you can get a halter on her, that would be a plus. But, it sounds like you need to be very careful in this regard. If she is in an area where a halter could be pulled around such that she can step on it, that would be a plus. You must make sure there is nothing in the area she could get tangled up in or she may panic. I would also recommend some grain each day. You might have to stand far away from her to begin with and then gradually get closer. Make her dependent on you for food, such that she knows something good is coming when you show up. You will have to continually monitor and re-evaluate and change your approach based on what you are observing with her. Good luck and let us know how it is going!
Post by midhilldexters on Oct 19, 2011 19:36:53 GMT -5
You need to get her in a confined space, a stall. Then you can evaluate her over a week or so. Don't go in the stall, but maybe use a little sweet feed and bring her hay, water and mineral. She will hopefully realize that you are her friend not her enemy. Lets hope she is just scared. When in the stall after a few days maybe you could reach in and pet her when she is eating, see how that goes. After a week you need to see if there is any progress or not and maybe re evaluate. Again though, don't go in the stall with her, work with her from the outside, she needs to build her trust in you. If you need to muck out the stall put her in another small area while you do it. I personally wouldn't bother with a halter yet. If you can get to touch her after a few days I would start with just rubbing her, groom her, let her know that touch feels good. go slow, be methodical, talk to her, be relaxed. Remember she charged you, stay outside the stall until she will come to you for food or treats, then go from there. If she needs 2 weeks then give her 2 weeks, but if after that there is no progress you may need to be looking for a new cow. Let us know how it goes and what happens, good luck.
Cutting her horns off is not a substitute for training her. Dehorning her won't make her safe to be around and won't make it OK to put little kids in with her. Her most dangerous features are her feet and her head, with or without horns.
No, cutting off her horns will not make her a safe cow, nor will it take the place of training, but it will certainly give her an attitude adjustment. A cow does not rear up like a horse. She will use her head to knock you down and then use her horns and feet to harm you. A cow with a sore head will think twice about using it. As far as I can remember nobody even remotely suggested letting a kid in with this cow.
Post by kansasdexters on Oct 20, 2011 13:17:28 GMT -5
A Dexter cow that behaves this way may be in pain and/or scared. It sounds like she is the only cow at your place, so she may be alone for the first time in her life. She is among strangers and in a strange place. That is very scary for a cow and her behavior will reflect her level of fear. She may also be in pain. We had a 20-month old Dexter steer that we purchased from another breeder and that animal acted the way that you are describing. This particular steer had never been friendly with the original owner and he had de-horned and castrated the animal because of this poor attitude. After buying this Dexter steer, we put this guy on excellent brome pasture for 4 months -- and he gained only 10 pounds. When he was slaughtered (at 24 months old), we found out why: his liver was abscessed. He had apparently had this internal injury and discomfort for many months. I really do believe that his flightly, fearful attitude had more to do with his internal pain and discomfort, than anything else. If you discover that your cow doesn't improve in weight and condition, even though you are feeding her good hay and pasture, it may be due to an internal problem. You can check her weight gain using a weigh tape and measuring her heart girth, periodically (if you don't have access to a scale).
If you are curious about her genetic predisposition for temperament, I recommend doing the Igenity Beef DNA Profile. You will learn a lot about the beef traits that this cow carries and also get an objective evaluation of her genetic predisposition for "docility". We have used this test and I'm just amazed at the excellent correlations we are getting with our carcass data and also our first hand knowledge of the animals' behavior and the correlation with their docility score. The test costs only $38.00 and you need a test kit (available for free from Igenity - www.igenity.com ) and tail hair sample (with hair follicles attached).
I would keep her in a small paddock area (not a stall), so that she can get away if she wants to. Try to spend time with her each day (picking up manure, putting out hay and treats for her, just hanging out and observing). Do not force her, let her come to you. The Dexter curiosity gene will usually overcome her reluctance to interact positively, especially if you smell the same and act the same each time she sees you. When she does finally come to you, don't move, let her smell you and lick you. Stand quietly nearby while she eats the treats you bring her. Give her time and space, you will know when she is happy to see you. Only then is it appropriate to try to touch her. You are developing a relationship of trust, probably the first one that she has had with a human being. She will sense any anxiety or impatience in you, so relax, be silent, observe. This is your opportunity to really understand the needs and feelings of another animal.
I always start my heifer, bull, or cow training with grooming. That is the natural social behavior of cattle that trust each other. Before I ever put a halter on an animal, I make sure that I can brush it all over without restraint. Then the halter training part is a cinch. Most of my cows will follow me without any lead rope, and they come when I call them. That is the best reward there is, when you become a part of the herd, and the leader of the herd.
Post by kansasdexters on Oct 20, 2011 17:11:43 GMT -5
It is very doubtful that a cow will offer to charge at anyone if she has room to move away from them. That's why I suggested putting her in a paddock area instead of a stall. I know that I feel very safe when I have a manure fork in hand, so picking up poop in an open paddock area is a good way for a skittish cow to become accustomed to a person's presence. If the cow were to become aggressive, a quick tap on her horn with the end handle of the manure fork would discourage her bad behavior. I use a wheelbarrow when I pick up poop, so if I'm not sure of an animal's behavior, I can keep the wheelbarrow between me and the animal.
Cattle are a "prey" species, not a predator species. They will move away from a perceived danger, if they are given the opportunity to do so. In an open paddock area, the cow can see and hear a person approach, and she can move away to a "safe" distance (comfortable for her). So it is very unlikely that she will charge at the person approaching. Cows charge when they are cornered or confined (or protecting a calf), it's their self-defense against a perceived predator.
The only other thought that I had was that she might be visually impaired and not able to see a person approach until they were too close for comfort. If this is the case, she will also not realize that she has room to move away and she will charge at the perceived "attackers". If she is put into a small paddock area, then you can observe her behavior as you approach, as you go through the gate, and as you move around her. She will move to her comfort zone, and then you'll know how far away that is. As she becomes more accustomed to your presence, that distance will get smaller and smaller -- then, at some point, it will become productive to put her in a stall and work closely with her on halter and lead.
Post by kansasdexters on Oct 20, 2011 21:40:30 GMT -5
A quick tap on the horn with a stick (or manure fork handle) allows a person to be at a safe distance from the animal. It also gets their attention and an immediate withdrawl response. They back off and I stand my ground. I only do this if an animal is behaving in an overtly challenging or aggressive manner towards me. If an aggressive animal is close enough to slap on the nose, then it is too close for my comfort level.
Post by midhilldexters on Oct 21, 2011 7:06:18 GMT -5
It's a totally different situation what you do with your own cows and how you handle them, than this person has with their cow. They have been challenged twice, there is absolutely no need for this person to put themselves in harms way, they don't even need to be in a position to swing a stick at the cows head. Safety comes first.
Post by kansasdexters on Oct 21, 2011 7:56:07 GMT -5
What I described is what I've done whenever we've received new, untrained cows or bulls (Dexters or Kerries). I don't have to do this with the animals that I've raised here or that have been in our herd for several years. Even though we have a large herd, it is actually comprised of three smaller herds of 15 to 30 animals each, in separate pasture areas.
Whenever a new animal is received here, it first goes into quarantine in a small paddock area, adjacent to our main barn. It doesn't know me and I don't know it -- so I am concerned about handling it very safely during the "get acquainted" period. A small paddock area works very well. We have a round pen in our paddock area, so we can also work on training and handling while an animal is in quarantine, when we feel it is ready.
The only time that a cow has ever charged at me was when she was cornered in a stall. That is a far more dangerous place to work with a new cow that has never been handled and that is afraid of people. In a stall, she is trapped and she is afraid for her life. If the stall walls are not high enough, she may try to jump out and injure herself or the person working with her in the process. In a paddock area, she can safely move away from what is strange and scary to her. I am far more comfortable (and feel safer) working out in the open with a new mature animal.
It's different with a calf. In that situation, a stall works great for initiating training, because a calf can be physically overpowered in a stall. A mature cow can be physically overpowered in a squeeze chute, but not in a barn stall. I'd rather have a cow safely run away from me, than run over me. A paddock area works best for evaluating behavior and initiating training with an untrained cow.
Post by rockyridge on Oct 23, 2011 16:03:41 GMT -5
Thanks to everyone for taking the time to reply! A few things that I didn't mention: this cow is dehorned. She is in the smallest paddock I have ( about 100 x 200). When she arrived, they caught her on the trailer, haltered her, and led her into the paddock. I do have to go into the paddock to feed, but there is plenty of area to maintain distance. At feeding time though I can get pretty close to her. There are no kids in with the cow. I am aware of the danger zones, and I do carry a stick. I have experience training horses and am a dog trainer by profession. Patti your advice was appreciated. Although she did charge us early on in spite of having plenty of room to get away...at the same time I do believe this is all fear related. Her little world has been turned upside down. She has plenty of time to settle in as she will stay in the paddock through winter. I don't care if she doesn't become a pasture pet but I would like her to be calm and be able to be caught and led safely as pasture access requires her to be led. Patti, it's interesting that you mentione weight. While I didn't mention her weight and condition here in this post...she did come to me thin. She had just weaned her calf though and it was the end of summer so I assumed that was the reason for her thinness. However it's been several weeks and she doesn't look like shes gained much. Of course I can't get close enough to measure her weight! She's on free choice hay (did have grass but it's gone now). She's bred too, so that may be partly causing the slowness of gaining weight. I have started her on some feed too. Again she's not starved...just not where I would like her weight to be especially going into winter
Again I thank everyone for their input! I just returned from vacation, so will be starting to work on taming her further. I will keep you posted.
My first dexter was a wild unahandled cow. It just takes time for her to get use to you being there. I would not try to push it as you are around her she will slowly start to except you being there. When she gets to the point that you can touch her brushing her every day will go a long way but It sounds like she is a ways away from that. As far as her condition Do you know if she has been wormed? If you dont know you could worm her or take a fecal sample to the vet to test. Can you post a picture of her?