Heifer behavior: Are we creating a monster?!

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by willow_girl, Feb 15, 2005.

  1. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    I don't know much about heifer behavior, as I don't really deal with the heifers at work until they freshen, and Libby-Belle is the first heifer I've raised. She will be a year old next month. (My, how time flies! :waa: )

    OK, so here's the situation/question. L-B has had a lot of attention and human interaction, since she stayed with her momma, who was our family milk cow. She is friendly; I can walk right up to her, pet her, run my hands down her legs, touch her udder, etc. Her mother was a calm and friendly cow. (I have no idea what her sire was like.)

    The problem is, sometimes when I'm petting her, she'll begin rubbing her head on me. Because she has horns, and because at least in horses, head-rubbing is considered a sign of disrespect, I have been trying to discourage this. If she doesn't stop right away when I say no, I'll tell her to "Back Off!" in a loud threatening voice, which usually makes her jump back a couple steps. Then I'll tell her "OK" and continue to pet her.

    Recently, this happened when Gary (husband) was out in the yard, and I commented to him that I was worried that L-B was displaying signs of aggression that might be problematic later. He told me I was being silly, and showed me how he "plays" with her by grabbing her by the horns and twisting her head around. She clearly enjoyed this (she was licking him while trying to hook him with her horns!) but it still strikes me as not being such a great idea. He says heifers are not naturally aggressive, though, and there is nothing to worry about.

    What do you all think? :confused:
     
  2. Lazy J5

    Lazy J5 Member

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    I don't allow my cattle to put a horn or head on me at any time, including the calves. Even when they aren't aggressive and just want to play, that's a big strong animal and people can really get hurt. Your husband playing with her is likely showing her that he's her equal (like another calf), and not dominant. What do cows of equal status do? Challenge each other for dominance. She may not respect him (or anyone else) later on when she's bigger and stronger. He's teaching her it's ok to hook people (very dangerous). It may be cute now, but it won't be when she's a large, mature cow. I'd curb this habit now while she's young, the older she gets the harder it will be.
     

  3. unioncreek

    unioncreek Well-Known Member Supporter

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    She could also be rubbing her horns on you because it feels good. My Longhorns love to have their horns rubbed. If she continues to do it hit her on the nose with willow or whip, it has to be hard enough to hurt. She will stop in short order if you are consistant with the punishment. Your husband will have to stop playing with her that way also.

    BobG
     
  4. myersfarm

    myersfarm Dariy Calf Raiser

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    had a friend that had a pet calf he was always playing with like that.. with its head he petted and it rubbed ..as it got bigger he stopped playing with it.....but it still wanted to play...caught him greasing his bush hog one day from behind and threw him on top of it head first..then it got to thinking that was play and he couldn't break it form PLAY it had to be sold it wanted to PLAY with the kids when they came out to ride the horses a 1000 pound cow plays rough
     
  5. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    Thank you all for the input. I showed your posts to my husband and he agreed to stop roughhousing with her.

    I have also decided that from now on, when I pet her, I'll start from her side or withers, and only rub her jaw from the underside, not touching her horns or the top of her head at all. I figure it may be confusing to her when sometimes I pet her on the head, and other times when she tries to rub her horns (they probably itch) I scold her for it!

    She is really a pretty good girl and behaves most of the time! :)
     
  6. bumpus

    bumpus Well-Known Member

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    What everyone here has told you is true, and it won't be long that she will get aggresive and she will take over.

    One day she will get someone with her horns and then it will be to late.

    People should not even play around with a small calfs head.
    Fun today --- trouble tomorrow ! ! !

    bumpus
    .
     
  7. dosthouhavemilk

    dosthouhavemilk Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I play with the heifers heads, but not much. I spend more time rubbing them under their chin (this is the only way I treat bulls as well) than patting their heads. I am also likely to pat the sides of their face rather than the top of their head. They also leave the barn at around 6 months and after that do not receive the same socialization from us until they are a month from calving and brought into the barn. However, I will go out in a field and again pet them and try to keep them friendly. They spend that time socializing with the herd and learning that they are cows and not humans.

    What your beau was doing was not good at all. Especially with an animal with horns. I rub the cows and heifers behind where their horns would have been (and when we had some with horns I would rub them as well), and they appreciate that because it does itch and is one of those places they cannot reach easily.

    However, our calves know their place. When they misbehave they are scolded. They elarn young and very rarely do they even try and be dominate over us when they are older.

    When younger we are reoplacing their mother, and therefore they need TLC from us, similar to what their dam would give them.
     
  8. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    I have often wondered whether calves would thrive better if they received some kind of stimulation. :confused:

    I noticed when L-B was little, Dawna was ALWAYS licking her! I used to joke that she must be the cleanest calf in the world ... :haha:

    On the farm where I work, Mark feeds the little heifers, but the milkers take care of the bull calves until they're shipped. We bottle-feed them by hand as there are no racks for the bottles in the bull pen. I always try to spend a few minutes rubbing them all over and talking to them, especially if a calf is in there by himself with no one to keep him company. :(

    Something I taught my favorite cow at work to do is to stretch out her neck and rest her chin on my shoulder while I scratch both sides of her face. It's funny because she'll relax and put the whole weight of her head on my shoulder, and squinch up her eyes while I'm petting her. I've been teaching Teeny to do this as well, she likes to be petted too. :)

    I feel bad I've sort of made out Libby-Belle to be a terror and really she's not! She will usually come when called, she'll back up if I tell her 'back,' go through a doorway or into a pen or whatever if I point and tell her 'get in there.' I am working on getting her to let me handle her feet, as I think it would be handy if she would stand for trimming the way a farrier trims a horse. She also likes to follow me around when I'm choring (or, as Gary says, 'You have a heifer in your pocket!'). :haha:

    Quite often in the winter I will let a couple of the critters out to keep me company as I'm choring. When I'm done I just rattle the grain bucket and call them back to where they're supposed to be. We don't get a lot of traffic on our road, but even so I've had some drivers do a double take to see me sledding hay bales around with a 1200-lb Holstein and a couple pregnant goats trotting behind me! :eek:
     
  9. dosthouhavemilk

    dosthouhavemilk Well-Known Member Supporter

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    When my father was about my age, he and his buddy ran the farm. Leonard would give the calves a good "beating" after each feeding. A vigorous rub down and small beating to stimulate them. I do the same. The calves really thrive better when given attention. We hate having calves as the only ones in their age grouop, but they do get a lot more attention from us and grow better than the large groups tend to. :rolleyes:

    When I have let the goats out to browse, I can walk down the road and there will be a herd of goats, half a dozen cats or more, and at one point, Jason, our future breeding bull or another escaped heifer trailing along behind me. :haha:
     
  10. evermoor

    evermoor Well-Known Member

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    I don't think it will be a huge problem for you personally. My wife makes huge pets, OK so do I, and are usually fine. As long as you don't mind the unintention knock you flat; pet me now; why are you on the ground?? look from LB. However if other people , children are around here then take the formentioned precautions, esp. with the horns. Just take extreme caution whenever there is a newborn around as the maternal instincts will kick in. One of our pets did this to my wife and kids and we were lucky to only spend a few hours in the emerengcy room. On a side note ;a quick hard wack on the horns really teaches them to mind their distance.
     
  11. Patty0315

    Patty0315 Well-Known Member

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    I always tell everyone if they let an animal do something as a baby be prepared for it to do it when it is full grown. As she grows it will become more of a problem wether she is playing or not. Her size alone could hurt you and then add horns. By the way why not dehorn her? My calves get a good smack on there noses if they become pushy.
     
  12. SmokedCow

    SmokedCow Well-Known Member

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    Ya'll reading your posts...this makes me relize why some of our show calves get so SNOTTY! Its cuz we rub their heads so much...Thanks everyone..
    AJ
     
  13. wr

    wr Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    SmokedCow, I hate dealing with show cattle for that very reason, they quickly loose that normal healthy respect for humans and in a herd situation you have to watch them very carefully. It's not always that they intend to hurt you but to tend to think of you as an equal so they can get quite pushy about feed or they look to you as a safe zone and if they get scrapping among themselves, you're apt to get run over by one looking for a safe place.
     
  14. JeffNY

    JeffNY Seeking Type

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    Hmmmm. A lot of dealing with animals is, we can't communicate with them the same way as human to human, instead it is body language, and it is what they also communicate with. Ever watch a calf look at its mother, then take off running towards her to plug in? There is body language going on there. The same us humans can read, and its very obvious once noticed. We have a couple playfull heifers, and I had a playfull bull calf once (get to that later). The one heifer will be 2 this April, she is a Jersey but is dehorned and respects me quite a bit. She won't bump into me, she jumps around in front of me, but as I move towards her she goes backwards. If I run at her, she will jump and run away. If I roughhouse with her, she relents, and won't fight back.

    Now one of the holsteins we have is playfull, but it is her nature. However, she is predictable, and if jumpy she can be stopped quickly. But that gets me to what I do when I have a situation like yours.


    You see I never hit, I don't like to hit, and the only time I slap (extent of it) is to get an animal that is tooo friendly to move. But I can't wack them with anything other than that. However, with an animal that is jumping around, and won't hesitate to come up and bump ya (like that holstein) when playing. I won't slap her, what I do is take my hand put one on her snout, the other on her shoulder and push her to her side. This stops her, if not the first time, the second time. It won't cure her, but over time she will respect you, because she thinks "he can push me". Its body language. Ever watch two fight? Ever see what happens when one gets onto the others shoulder? The one that gets the upper advantage wins, because the shoulder they don't fight with. They fight with their head, and stay balenced. So do the same, push on her side, if she is getting unruly. Now yes wacking the animal does work, however the way I gain respect is with body language.

    Lets use an example, what does a horse whisperer or a dog "whisperer" do? They don't wack the animal, they use body language, and try to understand the animal. They seem to make progress over wacking the animal. But since this is a pet, show her your the boss, and get her to respect you. At this point it sounds like she doesn't know when to play and when to not. But on to my mistake.


    Back a few years ago we had this hereford bull calf, his name was ferdinand "ferdi" for short. Well one day I was up hitting some pears off one of the pear trees in the pasture. He came up behind me, and knocked me on my grits. Now this is the interesting part. He backed wayy off, and never did that again. Im not sure if it scared him, or what. But he never tried that again. I didn't get hurt, startled me and since I don't rough house with bull calves. This was 4-5 years ago I think. Now he was polled, and if he had horns no harm done (he lifted me off my feet via my grits). But we don't have any that are like that, I like them friendly, but any playing is the head but on the leg. I think because they are in the pasture, the only interaction is when they rub your leg, and the adults do the same thing. But no head butting, or jumping around, and no surprise attacks!

    But as I said, notice her body language and react accordingly. Don't push back on her head, push her to her side, but don't do it in a playfull way. It works for me, but a good "NO" would work as well. But you can cure her. With lifting her legs, try to shift your wait against her. If she kicks, if it isn't too violent, hang on. It is all about trust, they dont know what your doing! Start with her front feet tho, atleast those don't kick :).


    Good luck.

    Jeff
     
  15. Patty0315

    Patty0315 Well-Known Member

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    Jeff that may work for you and my Hubby he is 6'4 and weighs 250. I stand 5'1 and weigh 125 . I do not intimidate anything here by looks. It also doesn't help that I am MAMA , I walk into the barn and they all start crying. They see me and expect food. I have to be firm or get trampled. A good hit on the snout works wonders.
     
  16. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    Patty, don't underestimate yourself! I'm only 5'1", my husband is 6'2", and he has more trouble managing the critters than I do! Of course, he doesn't spend nearly as much time with them as I do, so that could be part of the problem.

    Awhile back our stud llama snuck up behind him, "bumped" him and knocked him over. Didn't try to stomp him or anything, I think he was just seeing what he could get away with. Gary didn't go after him, he just got up and got out of the pasture. Well a couple weeks later, he pulled the same stunt on me. I got up and grabbed the first thing at hand (hay hook) and chased his @$$ all OVER that pasture, yelling at the top of my lungs!!!! I was MAD! :yeeha:

    The funny thing is, now the llama behaves perfectly for me ... but whenever Gary goes out, llama wants to spit at him and be nasty ... no respect. :no:

    The other problem I'm having with my cows is I still can't handle Twister properly. She just plain flat-out is scared of people, doesn't want anything to do with them. :( She is an older girl and was a parlor cow all her life before she came here, so I doubt she was handled when she was a calf. I'm worried about how I'm going to milk her when she freshens. There is a big tree in the pasture ... if I can get a halter on her I figure I can snub her up short to it and away we go! I'd rather not have to do that, though. :D She's too smart to stick her head into a stanchion, though. (Teeny was easy to train to stanchion; just show her food, and she's all over it! :rolleyes: )

    I was hoping that as some time went by, Twist would warm up to us. She will lick my hand now, through the fence, and let me stand next to her, but she's still very leery about being touched. I have tried "walking her down" in the pasture, the way you do a horse ... when she finally stops and lets me rub her shoulder, then I praise her and reward her by walking away. It's 5 months til her calf comes, hopefully I can make some headway before then. :confused:

    She does seem to be happy here though ... I was watching her yesterday, the sun was out, she was standing eating hay with her nose up in the air and her neck sort of bowed/relaxed (it's hard to describe, but it seems like a "happy cow posture" to me :) ). Later when I went out she was busy licking both the calves until they were positively SOGGY! :haha:
     
  17. JeffNY

    JeffNY Seeking Type

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    I can picture it :), their ears are kinda back a little, eyes relaxed a little. Id say that was both a happy/relaxed animal :), and I like that sign, means they are content.


    Well I forgot to add something, the lady that was showing us the animals she would sell to us had this fiesty heifer in one of the barns. She was jumping around, being playfull (almost knocked her over). Well she could not get her to stop, even with a slap on the nose. Well the only way she was getting out, was if this heifer stops (would get her at the gate, and the lady is only 5'0). Well I said, go ahead ill deal with her. So after a couple nudges, that distracted her she stopped. But guess what? That very same heifer is the one I chose, and is the playfull holstein here, the name of her is perfect "Speedy". I like my animals spunky, and show fight in them. Speedy is bright eyed, and her whole body language, active self fits those eyes. But even though she can be jumpy, I can reach under her and she doesn't kick, heck one of them lifts her leg!

    Now today I was playing with my Jersey, and before I could leave I had to get her to stop jumping around. All I did was a simple hug (mainly pushed her head up against my leg), stop her for a few seconds, she stopped and went to eat. But regardless of height and weight, you can control an animal. Look at those 9-10 year old kids that can lead those 1500-2000lb holsteins through a ring. A lot of it is respect, and it seems willow gained respect after scaring the bajeezus out of that llama. To bad a camera wsan't rolling, that would have been a funny video.


    I reread the last bit, and noticed she isn't that skiddish. Your best bet with that sort of deal, bend down, don't get higher than her (standing up, I know your 5'1, but still). From what I have found with skiddish animals, if your standing up they tend to not come up. If your kneeling, or squatting down or whatever, they tend to relax and come up. But what id start with, something lower than her back, is her legs. Try rubbing her front legs. But your ultimate goal is to get her to trust you around her udder, since your going to be milking her. Stand so she can't kick ya. I can't describe how to do it, but they can't kick out all that far, especially at her age. But what I noticed with the 10 holsteins that came from a 1500 cow dairy. When I rub them around the bottom of their gut, they don't jump as much. Even their legs, lower the better. When I rub their back, different story. They tense up, jump a little. See I don't just rub, I pat their back. I am trying to get them to realise "he isn't hurting me". Another really good way to get her to love the dickens out of ya. Try to rub her brisket, they go into a trance while you do that. Don't do it fast, but be gentle. Also don't get super close, like right up next to her. Extend out a bit, so you dont crowd her "zone". When I reach out, they tend to relent, when I don't, and get right up close to them, they tend to be jumpy. Our 4 Jerseys are friendly (5 total, but these 4 are the calves). Well two are friendly, other two are bit not as. When I am standing, one of them won't come up to me. However, when I am sitting, they come up, atleast one of the two. I rub her brisket, and lift her leg. Blitzen however, is not an overly friendly heifer, not into the whole mingle thing.

    But im no expert in this, but with the space thing, and the certain spots that don't scare them like the brisket. A good place to start. Then if she lets you do that, after a little while. Work your way around towards her udder. If she can trust you in that zone, you should be set. We had fully grown animals that were skiddish, a little bit of patience, and persistance, goes a long way. We do have a steer @ 10 months, he isn't friendly, but he also has his mothers disposition. It took her a while to settle down, she has been friendly since 14 months, however she used to move away more, unless we approached her from her front. But her "son" (steer in question) is a lot better than he was. The great thing with him, if I roped him he wouldn't fight. Something about his mother's personality, she also relents. Then she moans as if "oh noo, please!". It's entertaining, because one day she couldn't get in to get hay in a particular spot, she stood their moaning as if she was frustrated.



    Jeff