Calf on a Rope

A portion of the sixteen log structures that m...

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I mentioned last time how much easier it is to direct a young calf to where you want him to be while he is on a lead. That is kind of obvious, I realize, but not as easy as it sounds. I researched online to find out how to do it, and the methods I learned about were not satisfactory for me. I guess I was too inept.  For example, one site suggested the lead be put on a calf then the animal tethered to his stall or cattle gate. This only served to panic my babies who struggled to get loose. I resorted to my own method; time will tell if I am successful. Meanwhile, I am re-reading this site for ideas: http://www.prairieoxdrovers.com/training.html

This is what I have learned on my own so far. That is, I did not glean  it from a website:  When you feed a bottle calf, he always wants more and will head butt you, follow you around, lick your jeans, your clothes, or your hands looking for more of that warm, sweet delicious milk. That is a great time to introduce the lead, because the calf is distracted by his appetite and doesn’t notice you’ve slipped what amounts to a rope around his neck. In the cases of Pip and Rowdy, they also have shown a liking for my knuckles, like a human baby that is teething.  With a show of the knuckle of my first finger, both immediately kick in to “she’s got food!” mode, making it easy to place the lead around their necks and until they learn their commands of ‘giddup,’ ‘whoa,’ ‘gee,’ ‘haw,’ and ‘back up’ a good game of Chase the Knuckle suffices for them to follow me anywhere I choose.

Now, I have to say here, the boys (that’s what I call the calves) are not being trained as an ox team. Pip is quite a bit larger than Rowdy at this point and I remember the Biblical admonition not to be unequally yoked, so I figure there is a reason for that. I am simply training them in order to transfer them from pasture to pasture or from barn to trailer when needed. Of course, if they are lead broke– an expression I find comical in craigslist ads that say things like, “grandkid broke horse”–  that may make them more appealing to a buyer. I do have to recognize, however, my fascination with seeing an ox team in action at the Homeplace 1850 down at Land Between the Lakes a few years back fueled my desire to “try it,” and was the source of my, er, obsession with training the calves today.

At the 1850s House, they used what looked to be a natural fiber rope and a wooden yoke to direct two huge apparently-Charolais steers to plow a garden while the driver stood in front commanding. I am using a lead I purchased from Tractor Supply. It is an inexpensive (less than $20, as I recall) piece of nylon rope approximately 8 ft long with brass rings and a clip (kind of like those on dog leashes).  If configured correctly, and you need to check this as I bought one that was faulty, the clip should attach to one of the brass rings and the other ring should hold the rope loop tight and prevent it tightening around the animal’s neck.  While the animal is hunting for more bottle, I put the lead around his neck and clip the ring to hold it. The whole time, I reassure them, “it’s okay,” and keep the length of the lead between me and the animal very short– perhaps three feet or lesss. Then we walk. Since the animal is searching for more milk, he willingly follows wherever I go and pays no attention to the lead rope itself, but still I command, ‘gee’ for left and ‘haw’ for right as we make turns on our walk. Pip responds well to the voice command, while Rowdy still pretty-much just plays Chase the Knuckle.

Because Pip has already played the I Can Outrun Three Grown Men game in our yard, his walks are limited to his stall and the postage stamp yard beyond. Rowdy, on the other hand travels the length of the shed, past Pip who watches enviously from his play yard, to the sweet clover on a stretch of grass between my irises and the soybeans. Today, he even tried a little soybean, but much preferred the green clover, dandelion, and fescue. When he refused to move with a “giddyup,” I showed him my knuckle and soon he followed closely. The only problem was his occasional decision to head bump me in the bottom to remind me he was there for the milk!

Every day now, sometimes a couple of times a day, I give the boys their bottles, place the lead on them and walk them in their designated areas. The boys, however, are about to be weaned off their bottles, so I am hoping their fascination with my knuckle will still work until they understand and obey voice commands. I will let you know how that goes.

In the mean time, the cattle shed is nearly complete and now has multi-function windows installed. They will provide light and ventilation, of course, but also a place to throw scoops full of used bedding when mucking out the stalls. Yep, Mike thought ahead.  Good thing. That is not the best idea for a city girl’s chore. In fact, I told him I would be a temporary Mama for the bottle babies, but “I am NOT a mother mucker!” That is his job. Besides, he has the pickup truck.

It’s been slow going, but I think I may have finally gotten Mike broke to a lead, as a fresh pile of used bedding has arrived in the field near the asparagus. He still is not responding well to voice commands, though. I wonder if I need to show him my knuckle?

About cattlebaroness

I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a BA in History, nearing completion of a Master of Arts in American history. Born and raised first on military bases around the world, then in Orange County, CA, I moved to Kentucky when my children were small. I now live on a small family farm and am learning about farm life, planting and our newest addition to the landscape--cattle. Until a month or two ago, all I knew about 'cows' were that they came in brown, black and white and that some are raised for milk and others for meat. I am a quick study out of necessity.
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4 Responses to Calf on a Rope

  1. ceciliag says:

    Rather hilariously I am hopeless with the halter. I just grab a bucket, bang on it and call their own call (which I have called to them since I started with the bottle and they recognise as a food call) and then I run like crazy where I want them to go (or position myself there at the start) and the boys charge after me like little mad men. breathtaking .. c

  2. JAS says:

    Just a thought–you might want to explore using a soft thick cotton lead rope instead of the nylon–any of the farm stores should have them in the horse sections. If you run into problems, and get you or the calf tangled in the rope or have a sudden unexpected bolt, cotton leads will cause less serious rope burns on you or the calves. It’s also easier to cut through a cotton lead rope with a knife in an emergency situation than it is a nylon lead. We always used cotton lead ropes when training foals and unbroke older horses for that reason.

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