Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Our Highland steer

We have had cattle on our lifestyle block for a few years. They are supposed to be easy management. I can't say I've seen that side of them, but maybe that says more about us than the cattle.

We need to have at least two cattle at all times, so when one of them is ready for the freezer, we scurry around the region looking for a weaned 6-9 month calf. Weaned is good so it doesn’t have to be bottle-fed. Six to nine months of age is good because it can fit on my trailer for transportation to our place. Sometimes this is drama-free, sometimes not.

The lucky little guy or girl joins two others at our place, and then Mr Before-and-After can come and reduce the numbers back to two.

This system works pretty well. Except for one thing. Because we don’t raise them, the cattle never really get tame enough to lead around. However, they lose their natural fear of humans because they are in contact with us so often. The result is a small herd with a mind of its own.

After too much “mind of its own”, my wife came up with the idea of keeping tame cattle on the property that we can breed from. Maybe we could get a bull and a couple of tame heifers, or maybe just the heifers.

We did some research and decided that we liked the look of Highland cattle.

Sure enough, our neighbours Eileen and Ted were selling a Highland steer. Here was our opportunity to try the breed out. If we liked him we would get more of them. If we didn't like him, well there's always Mr Before-and-after…

Because we live less than a kilometer apart, we naively thought that Teddy could just trot down the lane to us, egged on by a carrot. Not so, we were told by Eileen & Ted.  We needed a stock truck.

On the morning we went to pick him up, I saw exactly why. The stock truck backed up to the end of the yards where Teddy was waiting.  The plan was that he would walk calmly along the race and into the back of the truck. We thought.

At that point things started to go a bit pear shaped. Teddy got a bit grumpy. He decided that he didn't want to be in the yards anymore. And he didn't want to go in the back of the truck.

So this animal - 1,000kg (2,200 lbs) of muscle and bone plus a couple of groin-gouging horns - just jumped out of the yards. Horns waving, eyes wide, nostrils flared.  Twice.

My 7 year old's eyes were just about popping out of his head. I felt like he looked.

Well, we eventually got him into the truck and to our place.  He burst out of our yards like, well, like a bull out of a gate. Our other two cattle came rushing over to see Teddy. Maybe they were coming over to investigate, or maybe they were trying to establish dominance over the newcomer. We had a couple of laughs as Teddy quickly made it clear that Teddy was the boss.

He has calmed down a lot over the last few months. Apparently. Not quite to the level where I feel I can hand feed him, but I've certainly seen others do it. Me? I still have too much respect for those horns.

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