From Point A to Point B

Reader Contribution by Sue Dick
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So there’s been a lot of traffic to and from the loading corral at our farm. In my last post I mentioned how we’ve had to cull very severely due to drought and this past week saw the last of the intended cattle go, leaving us with just half our original herd. 

Now loading is something I dread. I’ve been many places (bigger operations where you can see they’ve put in lots of thought and money) where loading animals is a snap and a breeze. Now, we’ve put lots of thought into ours, but next to no money. It’s certainly more of a headache to load, but it’s doable, and all we use are 4 panels.

I guess I should throw in a caveat here and say, our system works because we use good animal handling principles, we remain calm and quiet, and ultimately, our cattle are very sweet and generally good tempered. As well, because they are so small, they pose little threat to us physically. Not that they couldn’t hurt us if they wanted to. They do weigh 500-600lbs, they do have horns, they could still kill us if they had a mind to but that’s just it, working with Dexter cattle is like working with sheep who respect that you’re bigger and stronger; the Dexters think the same thing. If we had 1 ton continental breeds, I would NEVER try to load the way we do.

We have 3 pens leading to the corral (where we load from). Our girls are very easy to lead with a pail. Being grassfed animals the tiny taste of grain they may get as their long black tongues curl into the pail makes it easier to lead them by the nose than if they had rings in them. We lead the herd through, blocking the ones we want to stay out (again, we just stand in front and shoulder them out of the way and they comply) and closing gates behind them. By the time we reach the corral, we’re down to the ones we needed to cut from the herd. We have our wee 2 horse BP trailer (we can fit 2 full grown Dexters and their young calves if needs be) already backed up and a small “box” of panels around the back, with one side of the “box” open. We lead the girls in there (this is the step that takes the longest because at this point their instincts rightly tell them something’s up), close them in the box, and then use the “door” panel of the box to swing in and push them into the trailer. Our youngest son is often standing in the man door of the trailer with another bucket, coaxing them to enter the cow-eating cave as we pressure them from behind. With very difficult animals the whole process from start to finish usually takes about an hour, often it’s much quicker.

The other day we were delivering 2 cow/calf pairs to a buyer. We loaded all 4 animals no problem and set off. Now most of my herd (seriously) is tame enough to brush. When they’re shedding their winter coat, or in summer with the flies biting, most of them enjoy a good currying with a horse curry-comb. These moms were no different, and before I loaded them I had them shiny and sleek. The calves were another story. They’re born wild and skittish and it takes them almost a year to realize we aren’t going to eat them (well, not as far as they know). Anyway, we loaded the sleek and shining mothers and their healthy shiny babies and drove off to the customer’s.   

Those of you with large herbivores (cattle, horses, etc) know that when they are nervous they start to evacuate their bowls, and it’s usually a runny, green mess (at least for grassfed animals). Well, when we arrived and unloaded the girls at their new home (a lovely, shady, bit of forest in green contrast to our own sun-baked pastures) they emerged covered in green muck. The buyer was a bit startled and we apologized explaining that they had been clean when we loaded them! Nothing a bit of wallowing and rain wouldn’t take care of, but in the mean time the man and his family (who had assembled to see their new family cows unveiled) made faces of distaste looking at their green Irish Dexter cattle. One of the younger children (a little tow-headed boy of about 4 I would guess) looked up at his dad with his lip trembling and said, “Daddy, They’re so dirty and they smell bad”.

The trailer went back for a thorough hosing and then the whole process was repeated again, several times. We’ve used our little trailer more this summer than in all the years previous combined. I’m thinking maybe I’m going to have to paint the interior a striking shade of green. It might look better that way. Or perhaps a calming shade of Pepto-Bismol pink?

Sue Dick farms with her family in SE Manitoba on Ivy Hill Farm but has yet to learn to back a trailer properly.