When working with cattle doesn’t necessarily work with you.

Today was an interesting day at the farm. In some ways very successful, then other definitely not.

Our problems began earlier this week with Aileene and her calf. She is very protective over her new born, to the extent that Tuesday James found himself in a nasty situation where he was baled up against a fence post with her horns either side of him. James escaped but not without some damage to his jeans.. We were lucky this was not any worse.

These were a good pair of jeans..

These were a good pair of jeans..

Unfortunately for Aileen she has a mild case of mastitis in her front left quarter. The vet’s recommendation was to milk her every day and have her follow a course of antibiotics. Keeping her and the calf in the yards overnight did no favors as she was very agitated the next morning. Whenever we got too close she would charge and wave her horns at us. Rounding her up with the other cattle was marginally better, but difficult as we couldn’t get in the yards like we used to. Interestingly she is very calm when being milked – much better dealing with her back end than the front!

Today’s objectives were threefold: to catch, milk and administer antibiotics to Aileen; pregnancy test some of the other cows and heifers; and de-horn 3 of the young steers. Rounding the cattle up this morning was a doddle. However, due to a very sunny day and shadows cast by the yards (what we think was the problem), it was very difficult to push the cattle into and through the race. To add to our difficulty Aileene was stroppy with James and the other cattle making it much more difficult to deal with the herd. Once again getting in the yard with a protective mother is a no-no and we were only able to complete on de-horning and a handful of pregnancy tests. Our vet recommended looking into Temple Grandin’s work, with a short term solution of using black material to block out light along the race. Suffice to say that precariously stapling some heavy duty black lining to the outside of the race made a huge difference. We will be investigating Temple Grandin’s work further.

We were able to push Aileene and her calf into the crush where we successfully milked the front left quarter. Today the milk looked to be a much better colour and flowed very easily. At this point we were happy with ourselves and confident we were back on track. This was until James felt the bag itself to try and ascertain if there were any larger clots to come out. This must have been a sensitive area as Aileene proceeded to kick ferociously before shooting forwards and managing to get her entire head (horns included) through two of the baulk bars at the head of the crush. As you will see from the photo this cannot have been easy to do and arguably defies physics (cows head quantum tunnels through steel).

Defying Logic

Defying Physics.

Not in the right place.

Not in the right place.

At this point we were faced with a conundrum. Could we help her twist her head back through the bars? – Her aggressive nature and quick use of horns soon ruled this out. Do we cut our losses based on her behavior and difficulty of handling, part ways with the cow and hand rear a 5 day old calf? – no, no, we can’t fault a mother for being protective over her child, she is doing a good job at protecting it. Could we cut through one of the bars of the crush to release her? – well one would need to get within range of those horns to perform such a task and that crush cost a lot more money than the cow.

In the end we decided the best solution to this problem was to de-horn her. Not only did this allow us to free her head (granted there was much pushing to get it back through) but from a safety aspect there is now no risk of anyone getting a horn stuck through them when handling in the yards. It’s sad that such a splendid animal had to lose such a prominent feature, but necessary in this case. Aileene lives another day and will hopefully calm down and continue to produce beautiful calves.

In the process of de-horning.

In the process of de-horning.

Some morals of these events?

  • Understand why your cattle might be aggressive. The highlands have strong maternal instincts and can be very protective over their young, hence why it wouldn’t be right to get angry with her for her natural instinct.
  • Hope your cows never get mastitis. If they do then be prepared and extra cautious when handling them during the first few weeks after calving.
  • Having brand new yards doesn’t mean they are perfect. Our yards are brilliant; they have two holding yards, one forcing yard, multiple entry/exit points and have been solidly built. However this does not mean that improvements cannot be made. Today we identified that a raised walkway would provide a significant advantage, whilst minimising shadows would reduce stress and baulking.
  • Think each situation through. We could have made a rash or bad decision this afternoon. Allowing Aileene time to calm down gave us time to think and act in the best way for everyone.

Happy and safe farming!

-Rachael & James



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