A few weeks ago we purchased two new American Milking Devon heifers from Ray Clark of Lyndonville Vermont. We chose to buy from Ray because we wanted good stock and Ray’s herd is closely related to the heifers that where originally used to start Ox Hill Devons years ago. Ray is a great guy and a wealth of Devon knowledge and lore. His herd was in good condition and very clean, especially since it was January. The heifers were born in May. They ran with their mothers through the summer and had been tied in the barn since the onset of winter but hadn’t been handled. While I would prefer to be able to start training them at a much younger age this was still a great starting point. At this point, the heifers are in great health and condition. They know what it is to be tied and while they are used to some human interaction no one has taught them any bad habits. Ray was kind enough to have the heifers vaccinated for shipping fever and they made the nearly 600 mile trip home without incident.
The first night they where given a large box stall to themselves to settle in. For the following two days we shut them and the rest of the herd in the barnyard. This allowed them to become familiar with the electric fence and the rest of the current herd including Pat a large ten-year old Devon ox, a young Lineback heifer, and two young Holstein steers. The moment that Betty stepped into the barnyard she immediately singled out the largest of the young cattle and pushed him the length of the barnyard. She tried to challenge the other two but neither stood up to her and she immediately became number two in the pecking order. Ann has asserted herself into the number three position simply by riding on Betty’s coat tails. Pat the large ox was sold just the other night so Betty is now Queen of the pasture.
Betty and Ann are brought in twice a day and given a small treat of grain while tied with a narrow twine neck collar. They are brushed and introduced to such things as having their legs and udders handled, “put in” and “stand over” commands, our dogs, and my twenty month old daughter. I also use this time to take them out one at a time. I take them for a short walk and focus on teaching them “come along” and “whoa” but I do use “gee” and “haw” when it is appropriate. I drive them from the very beginning and don’t worry about halter breaking since they will be driven for now on anyway. They have a narrow twine collar and a heavy metal bow over their neck to get them used to a yoke. I try to end the walk on a positive note and make absolutely positive that the walk doesn’t end with any shenanigans.
Betty and Ann have very different personalities. They are both very alert but Betty is a very type A personality. She is very sure of herself, always holds her head high and is more active. Ann is more submissive, hangs her head in disgust, acts out more and is less active. They also learn very differently. Betty shows clear improvement nearly every time I take her out. Ann is more frustrating because she seems to show little signs of improvement for several outings but suddenly she will show that she has indeed been paying attention all along and has developed just as well as Betty. They are both quality animals that are very teachable but they have very different personalities.
Tune in next time for more As the Pasture Turns.