Murphy is Monday and Rocky's bull calf. He has been extraordinarily friendly. This past week, he decided following us around the pasture letting out frustrated moo calls was a good way to get our attention. He is hard to get a side picture of because he is always following or coming towards me. Murphy loves to have his brisket rubbed. It seems hypnotic to him. We imprint on our calves it is okay to be near us and even take comfort in our presence, but we also teach respect. He got me thinking about our docility program here at G&B Ranch.
There are rules the cattle need to follow. These include things like we scratch them, they do not scratch on us. We never play head butt or scratch the front of their head. As cute as it is to have a two day old calf pushing on your leg, it will not be cute when they outweigh us. It makes me giggle when a calf jumps around me like a jumping bean asking me to play. That being said, I do not condone it and let the calf know I am not a playmate by walking off.
The one time I break the playmate rule is with bottle calves. While I still never let them butt me, I will play tag with them. Usually the bottle calves are on their own in our backyard or maybe with one other calf, so they need socialization and happiness. A few years ago we had Vodka, a little red bull (get it?), who loved to run in giant loops with me around the yard. As he grew, it transformed to giant loops in the pasture. He never disrespected me and he even would lay his head in my lap wanting to be petted.
Once the calves are twice my size, I begin teaching them about my personal space. They need to be invited in and if I pay attention, I can usually spot their quiet request and reward it. Just like horses, we teach them about energy. They need to know to move or just chill and let us casually walk through. They pick up pretty quickly on our energy and what we are trying to do. The herd also comes when called. They also get super excited when they see a stock trailer and usually come running. This means a few things to them. They get attention from us (usually good), they get to see the mule (who doesn't like to see royalty), there is a new herd mate being delivered (someone to gossip about), they are going to a better pasture (hooray), or a someone is leaving (thanks, that thing was sucking the life out of me). I will say it is anti-climactic to expect a nice, long ride gathering cows only to be met at the trailer and have to hustle to get the panels set up to collect them!
I have read many articles recommending to not have your calves, especially your bull calves, too friendly. I agree with some of that way of thinking. Once the bulls are about 60 days past weaning, I do not touch them much, if at all. The heifers are a different story. Itouch them as much as possible with regular lessons about my respecting my bubble. We need to be able to walk through them any time of day, assist them with calving and nursing and perform soundness checks. If they get themselves into a pickle, they know we are trying to help them. Obviously, cattle are big and powerful animals with minds of their own and this is always in the back of my mind as I enter their space.
When it comes to buying a new animal or retaining an animal in our herd, we have a pretty set guideline of what we are seeking. The best bred cow or bull is not going to remain as a breeder if they are ornery. While everyone is entitled to a bad day, nothing turns me off more quickly than an animal who flees from me for no reason. For new purchases, chances are this animal is not enjoying its normal routine if we are coming to possibly purchase them, but I still grade them pretty hard. Our safety depends on it. My husband knows the drill. He stands off a ways and distracts the owners while I make angle gently towards the animal. I have a grading system:
A - They approach me without malice, remain still, smell an outstretched hand
B - They let me approach and smell an outstretched hand
C - They walk off, but stop when I stop and turn only their head to look at me
D - They walk off as far as the pen allows to turn their body and look at me
F - They run off or back away, not showing their backside
Obviously, it also matters what they do if they smell me. A bluff shake of their head could mean trouble while a timid cow may get startled by finding out I am not familiar. I do little follow up approaches to get a better read on their personality.
We strive to use the squeeze chute as little as possible by training our cattle not only to respect and trust us, but the respect and trust is a two way street. It is absolutely super being able to get close to an animal to evaluate and even touch them to triage the issue. Look on the herd sire page for a story about Notch and a watery eye I was able to evaluate in the field. I attribute his docility to his breeder, the folks at Midland, his breeding, and our respectful treatment of him.
Lastly, we feel we are doing something right when our bull buyers relay their stories of our quiet bulls and the docile calves they produce.
Time for my evening calf-checking rounds. Cheers.