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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

The Milk and Human Kindness Stanchion Floor

The Milk and Human Kindness Making Friends with your Wild Heifer

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Friends with Your Wild Heifer

by Suzanne Lupien of Thetford Center, VT

Your dream of milking a family cow is predicated upon your relationship with that cow. Somewhere along the line you may find you’ve got a particularly independent or wary heifer to tame down. In terms of making your dream a reality, the more harmonious the better, I’m asking you to take the time to train this heifer long before calving, so that it can go smoothly for the two of you, so that feeding, handling, milking can be accomplished each day, she gets just what she needs, and so do you.

You and your heifer need to be friends. Regardless of how old this wild heifer is, there are ways to build that friendship through calm, clear and patient daily interaction which will contribute to achieving your goal – that you can, ultimately, approach this heifer in the field and get a halter on her while she stands calmly, and lead her away. Of course if the heifer is 10 weeks old it’s going to be a lot easier than if she is 20 months old, because she will be smaller than you. At 20 months, it’s another story, and if she’s two months away from freshening, you have only so much time before calving in which to calm her.

So let’s just say this is your first experience with cows, you’ve gone to your local dairy farm, purchased a beautiful bred heifer who is very skittish, has never had a rope on her, or been handled or led, and you’re making arrangements to bring her home. Let’s think this through in order that we anticipate and iron out the wrinkles before anything unfortunate occurs. First off, let’s not confuse enthusiasm for preparedness. It ought to be dawning on you at this point that you need to safely and securely convey this heifer to your farm and then you need to keep her confined until she begins to calm down enough that she knows she’s home, and she knows where she gets fed. Even in a 12 x 12 stall catching a wild heifer and trying to get a rope halter on her can be difficult, especially if your cow skills are non-existent. And keeping a cow tied in a stall is a bad idea, especially if she’s never in her life had a rope on her, and she is afraid. No, what I mean by confining her at this point is to get her into a stanchion.

The farmer gets her into a squeeze, or loading chute where she is held, facing toward the awaiting trailer. You hand him your rope halter and he puts it on her. This little observation illuminates the great strength and energy this heifer has so you think twice and ask the farmer to help you lead her into the trailer and then the two of you, one on either side of her head escort her, after a fashion, into the trailer, and tie her up pretty short, remembering to loop the end of the rope through your hitching knot so it doesn’t come undone on the trip home. Already you’re thinking of how you might shorten the distance from the trailer to her stanchion back at your place and whether the farmer might be willing to ride back there with you. You ask, he’s willing, and you take him up on it. Back home, the two of you get her out of the trailer, and, holding her back as best you can, make your way into the barn where a nicely bedded stanchion awaits her, with a bit of grain in the manger. Reluctant to put her head into the open stanchion, you may have to thread her halter rope through the stanchion and haul her in while someone pushes her from behind. Or if there’s a way to tie her at this moment with the rope through the stanchion to a secure point beyond the manger, for example, you can do that, but she’ll need to be tied short enough that she cannot back away from the stanchion opening at all. Another scoop of grain, let her smell it, pour it down. Eventually she’ll push her head through and you’ll click her in. Let her enjoy her grain, then as calmly and deftly as you can, remove the rope halter, speak softly, run your hand along her back, give the base of their tail a good scratch, assure her as best you can. Secure a bucket of water in the corner of her manger, throw in a couple of flakes of nice hay and stand back and let her settle in. She’s apt to tussle with the stanchion for a while but she’ll get over it. And it very well may take her some time before she figures out how to lie down, but she will. She’s got a lot to get used to. If you have another cow already, by all means bring her in and put her in the adjoining stanchion so they can get acquainted. This will help the heifer. However, carrying on with this imagined scenario, you have no other cow; this big beautiful wild heifer is your only one. It’s going to be completely up to you to assess the situation and figure out how to proceed.

The farmer says everything will be alright, you thank him, slip him an extra $20 and a banana bread and off he goes. It’s up to you now. You find you’re already dissolving your prejudice against the rigid and confining attributes of the stanchion and you are becoming grateful for it instead. Over the next few days you will come up with a plan to create a secure passageway for your heifer to go out to the enclosed barnyard and back to her stanchion to be fed. This might be a string of cow panels or gate panels 4’-5’ high creating a passage wide enough to turn around in, and with no possibility for knocking down, jumping over, or going anywhere else but in to the stanchion and out to the barnyard. Meanwhile she’s going to stay in the stanchion until a) she calms down a bit, and b) she accepts the stanchion and gets used to it, stops fighting it, and c) she associates you with care and feeding. It’s going to be a few days at the very least, perhaps a week. In the meantime you’re going to keep her clean, keep her well bedded and fed and watered, and you’re going to scratch her back every time you come in. Get a neck strap for her and slip it on. Scratch her between her ears. Be very careful around her back end. At this point she is quite likely to kick from fear.

When you’re ready to let her out, everything is thought through, bed the passage with some sawdust if she tears out of there which is more than likely. You don’t want her to fall and there’s very little traction on a smooth hard floor for a cow, especially a fast-moving, suddenly free, pent-up heifer. Put a feeding of hay out in the barnyard for her. Open her stanchion and stand back. Once she’s outside you may want to shut her out of the barn entirely for a few hours so she can acclimate and you can clean her stanchion thoroughly. Keep an eye on her. Feed her minimally outside right now because the next objective is to get her comfortable coming in and going out and wanting to come in to get fed. Stay completely out of her way when you do open the door to let her back in. The first several trips are apt to include some fast footwork on her part. Watch her go in and out, put grain in her manger and when she comes in for it, click her back into her stanchion. You’ll need to put temporary barriers on either side of the stanchion at this point so she can only get her head into her manger through the stanchion, and not beside it. You could nail a couple of boards temporarily on either side, just see to it that the stanchion still moves freely. If she can move freely from stanchion to barnyard and back again, chances are that by the end of the day she will have learned a lot and calmed down somewhat. Toward the end of the day, aim to have her back in her stanchion for the night. Keep up this routine for several more days. Now you will be eager for her to be out on pasture and that’s fine. Just remember that lush grass trumps grain and getting her attention when she’s up to her knees in grass is a whole new ball game entirely. If the two of you are making good progress you may want to go ahead and let her out on grass, but keep watering her in her stanchion so she has to keep coming in for that. And establish a pattern of holding her in overnight if it makes you more at ease, and letting her out for the daytime. In time she will calm down, be relaxed in her stanchion and comfortable with your close presence. Once in a while, when she is confined in her stanchion, practice putting her halter on and off.

If the truth be told, one day this cow will get into the garden making a big mess, stepping on baby lettuces and chewing on succulent cabbages. You need to do all you can before hand so when that day arrives you can calmly approach your cow, get her attention with a bucket of grain and maybe slip a halter on her and lead her back to the barn.

When she’s within a few weeks of calving, and she’s still quite wary, here’s another set-up that might be very helpful to you both: A stall in a quiet area of your barn, with a good amount of sunshine, at least 12’x12’ but it could be much bigger if you have the space.

By erecting a corner stanchion accessible from the outside so you can fill her manger with feed and entice her in, and click her in from the outside. Very handy. Don’t bother with a floor for her to stand on. Just keep the area clean and dry and well-bedded. With a set-up like this a wary heifer can calve here, get used to milking, and live here for as long as it takes to develop trust in you, with her calf by her side. See Small Farmer’s Journal Summer 2012 issue for more on calving and caring for mother and calf.

Please note: take care in choosing materials for this stall. Tubular gates work well. Cow panels are ok. If you are constructing it out of wood, always use 2×6’ or bigger, keep the lowest plank right down to the floor and keep the spacing very close, say 6” apart so the calf will not get its head stuck or somehow injure itself. If the stall feels too exposed either from wind or busy barn traffic you can stack straw bales just outside and build a protecting private wall that way.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

You are probably thinking why would I want to dry up a doe? If the plan is to rebreed the doe, then she will need time to rebuild her stamina. Milk production takes energy. Kid production takes energy, too. If the plan is to have a fresh goat in March, then toward the end of October start to dry her up. The first thing to do is cut back on her grain. Grain fuels milk production.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

One Seed To Another: The New Small Farming

One Seed to Another

One Seed to Another is staggering and bracing in its truths and relevance. This is straight talk from a man whose every breath is poetry and whose heartbeat is directly plugged into farming as right livelihood.

A Quiet Stand

A Quiet Stand

Burnout is common to idealists who invest deeply in their dreams. It is easy to overreach, and promise more than you have to give. Then too there is that tempered hidden anchor called hope, the mountain climber’s friend driven into cracks to belay and secure him as he goes, which still may fail first or last. So following the story that underlies these essays it is not hard to see how, as Kingsnorth says, finding himself increasingly mired in endless meetings with corporate spokesmen paid to resist him, enough futile effort might lead to despair.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

An Introduction To Grasslands Farming

From Dusty Shelves: A World War II era article on grassland farming.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Laying Out Fields for Plowing

Laying Out Fields for Plowing

There are four general plans, or methods of plowing fields. These are: (1) to plow from one side of a field to the other; (2) to plow around the field; (3) to plow a field in lands; and (4) to start the plowing in the center of the field.

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review – The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie: Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor.

The Horsedrawn Mower Book

Removing the Wheels from a McCormick Deering No. 9 Mower

How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Training Workhorses Training Teamsters First Time Hitching

First Time Hitching

More from Lynn R. Miller’s highly anticipated Second Edition of “Training Workhorses / Training Teamsters.” Today’s excerpt, “First Time Hitching,” is from Chapter 12, “Follow Through to Finish.”

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses – A Review

by:
from issue:

Over 40 years Lynn Miller has written a whole library of valuable and indispensable books about the craft of working horses. He has helped beginners acquire the basics of harnessing and working around horses, and has led those further along to focus on the specific demands of plowing, mowing, haying and related subjects. But, in a fitting culmination, his latest book, The Art of Working Horses, raises its sights and openly ponders secrets at the heart of the work that may over time elevate it to an art.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

Dont Eat the Seed Corn

Don’t Eat the Seed Corn: Strategies & Prospects for Human Survival

by:
from issue:

Gary Paul Nabhan’s book “WHERE OUR FOOD COMES FROM: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine” (Island Press, 2009) is a weighty tome, freighted with implications. But as befits its subject it is also portable and travels well, a deft exploration of two trips around the world, that of the author following in the footsteps of a long-gone mentor he never met, the Russian pioneer botanist and geneticist Nikolay Vavilov (1887-1943).

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT