Sunday, 9 April 2017

Our Calf Catcher

We have great cows,
but occasionally one will be overcome with the "crazy momma cow syndrome", and she will do everything in her power to stop you touching her calf.

These antics keep you on your toes,  sometimes it entails diving behind a tree, or playing
 ring-a-rosies around a bale or even, if the tractor is handy, diving under to avoid being stomped on.
All good fun, until the day you get caught.

So, Eric ( he is an insurance agent) decided instead of doing disability insurance on me, he decided that a calf catcher would be the solution, as most of the time it is just me alone working with these new born calves and dealing with their moms.

The calf catcher is designed to catch the calf, contain it, so that you can safely work on the calf (tagging, vaccinating, castrating etc) without momma trying to kill you.

So, here are some pictures and videos to highlight how it works. This is our first design, and having used it a few times, I can see where a few improvements can be made. 

The front end.
The gate opens in the front and you can guide the calf in. Once the calf is in, stomp on the brakes and close the door.

 The gate works best with newborn calves, the quad just  chases older speedier calves away. As we tag within 2 days this works pretty well.



The other side.


The back side has a release gate. So, once you have done all you need to do with the calf, you can
"eject" him out the back, and he can go back to his momma.



This is the gate at the back that flaps open to release the baby beast.


The"box" area. Onece the calf is inside the catcher, you can place him in this back are to help confine him while you tag or vaccinate. It is also super handy if you need to transport baby and the mom. If the calf is in this box, the mom can see, hear and smell the baby and as you slowly drive off she will follow. We moved a cow and calf this way a quart mile from the calving pasture to the barn.


From the quad, you can step directly into the catch are, keeping you safe from the mom.






Here are a few video clips that Eric took of us using the catcher.

video


video


video

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Calving time

It was a beautiful spring day, sun shining and most of the snow gone.
It was a lovely day to head outside and get some photo's taken.
This past winter I have not had much desire to take photo's but today I felt like it again.

The cows are calving, and cute calves are always fun to take pictures of.












Vuk has calving duty. He is amazing around the cows and knows how to calm a mad momma cow. He is calm and respectful and yet very watchful.
He takes no unwarranted chasing by the cows.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Part 2: Looking for the good signs





In last month’s article, I wrote about the behaviour of a “naughty” dog, I touched on what motivates the dog and listed some warning signs to watch out for. 

Remember, a warning sign is indicative to what is going on in his mind, sometimes a sharp “no” is enough to convince the dog that he should change his behaviour. To be successful in correcting a dog, the dog must be caught “in the act” but preferably, a warning before he acts. The signs are subtle, it could be the start of a “play bow”, or a hard stare, or a short quick movement directed at the stock. Correcting at that moment, will do wonders in stopping the immature dog’s behaviour. He will think you are a mind reader, and that is exactly what you want him to think! 

To get that timely correction, you must be able to observe and supervise the young dog. If he is stuck on the “back forty” with no supervision, you will have no influence on his behaviour and will be unable to correct unwanted behaviour. Adolescent dogs are best kept in a pasture with livestock that can be seen and monitored by you. Remember, your stock will give you indications if the dog is being trustworthy or not. 

Every time the dog gets to play and chase, it reinforces his desire to do so, it becomes harder and harder to correct. If you come to the pasture and see that he has rough housed your stock, the first thing to do is to tether or place him on a zipline, kennel him or remove him from that pasture. He needs to be stopped immediately and prevented from reinforcing his own behaviour. By removing him from the livestock, you know that he cannot get into any more trouble and the stock is safe.  Once he is on lockdown, you can form a plan of action on how to move forward. Most young dogs can be corrected for naughty behaviour, and many go on to became fantastic guardian dogs. 

I like to “change things up” with a naughty adolescent dog. This means change the dog’s life completely; moving him to a different pasture, or give him a larger area to work in, or place him in with another type of livestock, place him with a grumpy older dog, or a bigger flock, or on a zipline, or even for a while in the barn.  This change in environment, will take him out of his comfort zone and will force a change of behaviour and attitude.  This change can be like a reset for him. We have multiple groups and livestock in various pastures. We have a bull pen, a draft horse pen, a ram pen, we have various pastures adjoining where the flock grazes, we can place a dog with the cows or even in the barn where we always have some livestock inside.

All these animals are used to dogs and not easily intimidated by them. My favorite spot for the adolescent dog who needs a lesson in humility, is in the bull, ram, and stud horse pasture.  These animals do not run, play, and bounce away from a dog, they do very little to encourage play behaviour and are big and strong enough to stand up to a young foolish dog.

As we are a “hands on” operation (meaning we touch and handle) our dogs, I will also expect/demand more compliance from a naughty dog. I will be stricter on everything I do with him. I require him to wait calmly while I set his food down, I will reinforce that more. If I need to open a gate, and do not want him to dive out of the gate, I will be strict on him backing off and only be allowed through the gate when invited. He will need to move around in calm manner. If he comes to greet me, he had better do it with respect and have a quiet approach. There will be no “holding” my hand in his mouth, or bumping into me, or super excited behaviour.  I normally reinforce this type of behaviour in a younger pup, but I will be stricter in enforcing calm and respectful behaviour with a naughty adolescent. 
So, being vigilant to warning signs, and acting directly, is perhaps the biggest factor to preventing unwanted behaviour. 

Changing things around, and preventing a continuation of bad behaviour for an extended time, supervision, demanding calm behaviour and, a timely correction do wonders to the attitude of a young naughty dog.

Looking for the good signs is also very important, they too reflect what is going on in the mind of the young dog. Good signs will tell you about the trustworthiness of the dog and its attentiveness to the livestock:

Some signs to watch out for are:
Calmness around the stock



A quiet demeanor, (head low, tail low)


Treading lightly around the stock (I wrote a blog about this and you can see it here:
http://predator-friendly-ranching.blogspot.ca/2016/02/trading-lightly.html)

Moving out of the way of the stock
soft eyes
Looking away ( so glancing away, to not intimidate the stock)

A lower tail carriage, with a soft slow wag when meeting or greeting a sheep
Ear carriage is relaxed
Laying next to the stock without being intrusive in the space of the stock

Butt sniffing and licking, 
some ear licking, as long as it is cleaning and not obsessive


Walking around the stock rather than barging through

Content and comfortable to hang out with the stock, stock is content and comfortable with the dog

 
“Reading stock”, if the sheep are uncomfortable with the dog too close, the dog will move away, or turn its back and give the sheep more space.


Following the stock out while grazing


Happy to return back to the stock, greets the sheep


 The dog and sheep have a trust relationship

Some dogs really value their own personal space and may not be super tight with the sheep and yet, are still attentive and trustworthy. Some sheep also prefer more space from the dog than others. All of them are individuals. A dog who has a bigger personal bubble, will simply give the sheep more space, he will still show all the good signs. A trustworthy and attentive dog does not necessarily have to be all cozy and snuggled up with the stock. 


The role the stock play in the development of the young dog, is also important to consider. I have seen rams trying to mount a dog, I have seen: some goats that will butt a young dog continuously, bouncy lambs and kids may encourage a dog who has more chase tendencies, flapping chickens are irresistible to some dogs and young dogs being bullied away from their food can all result in the dog showing inappropriate behaviour.
A young dog who is bullied away from his food might learn to lunge and bite the stock, a pup getting hurt by goats might become fearful and want to escape the pasture.  

Careful consideration of the age of the dog, its temperament and the type of livestock can play an important role in preventing problems. I am all for preventing potential problems before they start, and that requires me to be flexible in my approach and a willingness to facilitate the young livestock guardian dog during its journey to becoming a reliable adult.


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