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Advice and tips for new cow owners

 
steward
Posts: 4453
Location: West Tennessee
1955
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I'm in need of some advice from others here on Permies who own, have owned, or have experience with cows. My wife and I brought 3 heifers onto our farm yesterday. They're all about a year old and within 3 or 4 months of each other in age, came from a closed herd and grew up with each other. We have about a 60 acre farm that came with 4 to 5 strand (in some spots) barbed wire perimeter fence. I patched the holes from fallen trees, tightened a few things up and have it decent. Also I should note a herd of about 15 cattle were on this farm for 20 years before we bought the land, and those cows didn't get through the fence, so that's a plus for me, at least in my mind.

Story time: I had a nice paddock set up with electric poly wire running around, and a second wire running around that with a gap in between the two of about 15 or 20 feet. Clean water and mineral at the ready. We unloaded the heifers from the stock trailer and all was going well. They immediately started grazing. I lost sight of one and thought it would be a good idea to walk around and check and see where she went. Instead I spooked the 3 heifers and they took off, ran right through my two paddock poly wire fences, and off they went. Fortunately, they have stayed on the farm so far and are not down the road, off in some woods, grazing my neighbors hay field, rubbing dents in a shiny new pickup truck down the street or in with another herd. The good news is they're on my farm, at least last I checked a few hours ago. I wish they were back in the paddock I had, where I can see them from the house, and just let them get settled into their new home.

I've been walking around today with a bucket and some sweet feed treat in it. I found them, tried shaking the bucket, which kinda got their attention, I set it in the grass and walked away. I went back to the bucket like an hour later and they never touched it. I found them again across the farm and this time shook the bucket and poured some onto the ground and they walked the other direction. They're pretty independent and I have learned I have zero control and I gotta work with these heifers on their terms, but I don't know what those are.

Any tips on how to get new cattle acclimated to me and identify me as a friend? Do I just need to keep doing this for a week or two?
 
gardener
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I don't think this speaks directly to your current issues but I really enjoyed this Spirko podcast a couple of weeks ago:

Keeping a Family Cow and Still Having a Life

Interviewee was a woman talking about her experience with her first cow (a mini dairy cow) and went into detail on how having dairy cows for family-scale dairy production doesn't have to be as big of a pain in the ass as most of us imagine it would be.  
 
pollinator
Posts: 441
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Never thought about how to make a cow a pet, since they more often are pests.  

Thoughts, they have to have water at least once a day.  Where do they water?  Can you close it off to them, except when you are present?  Cows will typically graze, drink, then lay down to chew cud.  If you are at the tank when they are ready to drink they will get used to you being around.  Have some treats on hand and they will get the idea that you are part of the landscape and have tasty things like grain, apples, alfalfa squares, etc...

My solution would be to train your dog to gently round them up.  If a dog has any sense at all, they can be trained.  If you can get the idea to them that you want them to push cows, they don't have to be stock dogs or have training to understand.  The cows will instinctually react to the presence of a canine.  If you walk out to the cows with the dog on the leash the cows and dogs will learn that means go the other way.  If you can keep the pressure light, until the dog figures out the routine, then the cows can be directed in the direction you want them to go.  Of course, one could always get a good stock breed like a catahoula.  Good family dogs with a strong work drive.  

 
James Freyr
steward
Posts: 4453
Location: West Tennessee
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Jack Edmondson wrote:Never thought about how to make a cow a pet, since they more often are pests.  

Thoughts, they have to have water at least once a day.  Where do they water?  



I don't want them to be pets, they are livestock. I do want them to be acclimated to me, and approach or follow me if needed such as moving them to a new grazing paddock. I want to do managed intensive grazing on my farm, and do not want to let the cows have free run of the entire place. I think the best way to achieve this is through gentle positive reinforcement, and having them associate me, the bucket, and my call with a tasty treat. If I can just get them to taste a little sweet feed the first time I think it will progressively get better as the days go forward, but right now I'm a stranger and they're at a strange place.

I have two ponds on my farm, along with a 40 gallon tub full of water I had set out for them. I've seen the hoof prints on the ground and they have found one of the ponds.
 
James Freyr
steward
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In my internet searching for how to herd and call cows and get them to go to or come somewhere of my choosing, I came across a captivating youtube video and the ancient Swedish herding technique called Kulning. I don't see myself doing traditional Kulning, but I believe that I can train my cows to come to my voice and a call of my choosing. I was mesmerized by the swedish maiden in the video, and if I was wandering in the wilderness and heard this, I would walk towards the alluring and angelic voice.

 
gardener
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Beware the siren’s call, Jim, lest you run aground!  
 
gardener
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Artie Scott wrote:Beware the siren’s call, Jim, lest you run aground!  



I'd planned to say this very thing, but I got distracted by the Siren...
 
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I got my first set of cows a few years ago, an angus heifer and a steer. We got them from a Beef herd of 100+ on large acreage. They were a huge headache! Getting out constantly!
In contrast, I got a dairy cow later on who was raised in A pen. Even when the other 2 escaped, she ignored the fence hole they made and stayed in her paddock. An old timer I talked to just said ‘yeah, angus are breachy.’ IMO it’s a mix of breeding and environment that causes them to try and escape all the time.

That said, you’re on the right track with grain-training them! I taught those two wild angus to eat grain by pouring it over something they already ate (alfalfa or hay) until they developed a taste for it. Also, cows like routine. Just keep at it and you will get them to follow you anywhere.
 
James Freyr
steward
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Location: West Tennessee
1955
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I spent my day hanging out near the cows, either walking around or sitting in the grass near them, repeating the call I want them to learn (it's "hey pretty girls" kinda sung in a gentle voice, but nothing near as appealing as the dulcet tones of the swedish maiden in the youtube video above) and shaking the bucket with their treat in it. I think I made really good headway. Thursday they wanted nothing to do with me, yesterday they would walk away from me when I approached or they saw me coming. Today by mid afternoon they were casually grazing 30-40 feet from me, and I walked around with them like this. Late in the afternoon they had walked to the pond for a drink about a hundred feet from me and then started walking back towards me, and I placed the bucket on the ground, turned and walked away, and the cows came to investigate the bucket. I suspect the treat I have in there, which is non-gmo grains that are partially milled with molasses, is not aromatic enough. All three checked out the bucket, one licked the side of the bucket, but none put their nose into the bucket for a taste. So tomorrow morning I'll add some fresh molasses to the grains, which are pretty dry, and try this again. I'll report back with my experience....


cow-with-bucket.jpg
cow with bucket
cow with bucket
 
James Freyr
steward
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Success! This morning, two of the new girls were bold enough to put their nose in the bucket and take a taste, and they went back for another bite. They seem to be getting comfortable with me hanging around. This evening, the white one who didn't get a bite this morning was the first to approach and investigate the bucket. After about 30 or 45 seconds, number 87 saw the bucket in the grass and promptly walked with an earnest gait and without hesitation started helping herself to a treat. She would keep snacking and was selfish about it, not letting the white cow have a taste. Meanwhile, the other brown one, number 88, was grazing. I guess she must have had something on her mind before noticing the other two and the bucket, and she also suddenly walked directly to the bucket, nudged 87 out of the way and immediately started having a tasty snack. 87 and 88 would then spend the next several minutes pushing on each other, nudging each others head out of the way, competing for access to the bucket. The white one would eventually get curious again and came over to see why the other two each want the bucket for themselves. The white one still hasn't had a taste of what the bucket contains, hopefully tomorrow she will. I think the other two fully understand the tasty treat that can be found in the bucket. I hope tomorrow that I can get them to take some steps towards me, even if only a few, as I take steps away from them, and reward them for following me. We'll see if they're ready for that. I am surprised by how well this whole procedure has been going and how fast they seem to be getting comfortable with me being near them.

3-cows-and-a-bucket.jpg
[Thumbnail for 3-cows-and-a-bucket.jpg]
 
Dan Boone
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James Freyr wrote: I am surprised by how well this whole procedure has been going and how fast they seem to be getting comfortable with me being near them.



Disclaimer: I have never been closer than about 25 feet to a cow.  That said:

I think it's going so well because, although they showed up not knowing you from Adam and with zero trust levels, they are domestic animals to their 10,000-years-of-human-breeding genetic  core.  I have no doubt that within a few days you'll be leading them where you want them with that yummy bucket.
 
pollinator
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We brought four bred Jersey heifers onto the farm a few years ago that were quite skittish.  We eventually got them into the corral, then into the barn, then finally, with the use of ropes, into the stanchions.  Then we left them locked in for two or three days, feeding and watering them there and making a point to walk both in front and behind them multiple times per day, talking to them and touching them the while.  By the time we let them out they were completely calm and approachable, as though a switch had been flipped.

Even if you won't be milking, such a stanchion setup is invaluable when you need veterinary work done, or if you intend to AI your girls.
 
James Freyr
steward
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Thought I would offer an update on my cows. I did get them back in their paddock, or rather they went back in on their own accord, no treats or persuasion needed. After having full run of the farm for 6 days, I look out the window as I'm about to start breakfast around daybreak one morning and they had walked into their paddock. I went outside and cranked the reel of poly wire to tighten up the fence and turned it on. They've been contained in paddocks for three weeks now. I've moved them several times, and they totally know what the bucket is, and if they see me coming holding the bucket they will walk towards me and meet me at the fence. If they don't see me coming and I call them and shake the bucket they come running. Bucket training success! They know who I am and are comfortable grazing just a few feet from me. A couple times I've reached my hand out and 88 has approached, touched me with her nose and given my hand a lick. I think they've become acclimated to their new home. When I move them into a new paddock, they'll walk into the tall grass and graze for a minute or two, then they get excited and start running around kinda jumping and kicking. They only do that right after a move onto fresh grass. Right now I'm moving them every 3 days as I learn how much they graze and trample and adjust the paddock size a little smaller and smaller. Their current paddock is roughly 1/3 acre and it's plenty, perhaps too big by management intensive grazing standards, but nothing appears to be getting overgrazed and I'm still learning.

My tips for new cow owners based on what I've learned after having cows 4 weeks: visit them everyday, and establish routine. My cows get treat 4-5pm every day and I move them to fresh grass in the afternoons as well. I bring them fresh water around 8am every morning so they're set for the day. They seem to understand routine, and I like routine as well.
 
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I don’t personally own cattle but I help out a lot with a friend down the road. I’d set up a temporary pen in the field near the pond they’ve been going to then get some friends to help you gently herd them to it. Once they are in, you should be able to approach them easier. Remember, you are a strange predator to them. If they weren’t handled much at the farm you bought them from, they won’t be used to human interaction. Look at them from the corner of your eye so you won’t seem as much of a threat. Treats and gentle petting (you’re right about that).

I’ve also heard (and noticed a bit) that genetics seem to have bearing on flightyness so they may never be easily managed. If that’s the case, I’d cull and look for better genes. Hope this helps!
 
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My wife and I (mainly her) figured out that cows LOVE bananas. Mine is so much of a Nana junkie that the one time she got out, she tried eating the yellow flag left behind by DIGSAFE.

Grain (and by correlation sweet feed) is a feeding behavior that is learned.  If they came off a grass-fed program,  shaking a bucket at them will likely do no good,  as they won't associate the sound with food.
 
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Lots of good advice here. I had trouble with mine escaping until I lost one cow. Hated to lose the money but definitely glad she is gone. Haven't had a problem since. I don't use grain or sweet feed. I use range cubes, otherwise known as cow Cocain. I also call them when I put it out so they get used to coming when called. I have American Milking Devon cattle which are a heritage breed. They have small birth weight with rapid growth so I don't have calving problems. They are also disease resistant. So I definitely recommend a heritage breed
 
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After lookin at all the information on cattle, I am almost ready to consider getting a couple.  Maybe even a once a day milking cow!  I actually promised myself I'd never get into milking any animal, so this is a big step for me.  It can't happen til I retire though, hubby doesn't want anything to do with it.    My question is, does anyone like Gallways (sp?) belted or otherwise?  Are they a good dual purpose breed, mostly for meat, some milk for cheese etc?  I think I saw a thread on milk fat percentages in beef breeds.  I'll see if I can answer my own question.
 
Saralee Couchoud
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Gallways are a heritage breed so they tend to be resistant to disease, are easy to handle and gentle. I always recommend a heritage breed. There are many different heritage breed to choose from. I recommend Google the different breeds and see what the characteristics of each and pick the one that suits your needs or situation best.
 
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