Two Weeny Weaners: Pt. 2
“They’ve gone through the fence!” I’d offloaded them from the stock crate and was away unhitching the trailer. June had seen first the heifer, and then the steer follow in the gap where his mate had broken the bottom two wires.
“I thought having the goats next door would help them settle in. I didn’t think they’d want to get in there with them!” I replied. The perimeter fencing of the billy and wether’s paddocks is, as you would hope, goat proof. Two weeny weaners sired by a diminutive Dexter bull weren’t going to alter that.
But the 1.3 m high internal electric fence separating the goats from the calves could be breached in a rush of blind panic from a calf looking for mother and mother’s milk. And as I said last week, the weaning process for these seven month old calves had only started as I drove away from Anna’s small-scale farm: https://grahamrcooper.com/2021/10/25/two-weeny-weaners-pt-1/
An early start to the day, four hours there and back, a gap of years between calf buying and crating forays, stress levels elevated: fertile ground for the irrational thoughts of a guy born to ‘catastrophize’.*
“They don’t respect electric fencing! They’re going to plough through my fences!” (Temporary electric fencing is what divides our paddocks up for rotational grazing.) “Didn’t Anna use electric fencing? Or have they learnt that they can just barge through!”
“I suppose she mightn’t use electric.” June’s comment not the reassuring one ‘a catastrophizer’ wants to hear!
I had no problem getting them through the gate and back where they were meant to be. The two broken strands of wire repaired, and the electric current pulsing just fine, I hoped they had calmed down enough not to chance a belt from the fence again.
A couple of minutes later and the heifer was back in with the goats! This time the steer wasn’t prepared to follow, suggesting electric fencing must be something of a deterrent for him at least.
There was just the one billy goat paddock totally surrounded by sheep netting and a couple of ‘hot wires’ (high tensile wires carrying an electric current). So I put the calves in there for a week. That was the set time limit on June’s tolerance. She wanted them outta there – enough chewing down of her goat pasture.
Sure, I’d move them out of the goat area, but delay putting them in with the cows – delay confronting the nightmarish possibility of them treating the electric fencing with contempt. Give them another week and they’d have settled in and decided, in whatever way calves decide, that all their basic needs were being met after all – no need to go off in search of greener pastures, or herds, or mums that didn’t care less anymore.
My first experience with Dexters was a yearling steer. The sale had been negotiated over the phone, so it was sight unseen till he was offloaded from a stock truck. I wanted one without horns. To my horror, I saw when he arrived that he’d been recently dehorned by having them lopped off and had been a bull pretty much up until I got him! Brutal practices, but too late to do anything about it – I’d paid for him and he was here now.
Not a happy chappy. Lopped, castrated, taken from the herd to load onto a truck, and stuck in foreign fields with a solitary house cow. He cleared a metre high boundary fence topped with barbed wire. I got a call from my farming neighbour to say there was a small black steer up near their cattle yards.
Luckily, he hadn’t found the farmer’s herd yet. June and I walked him home and put him and our house cow in a paddock as far back from the road as possible and with a couple of electric fences between him and the said boundary fence. He’d obviously learnt to give electric fences a wide berth, so that was what saved the day. But I have to say he always seemed out of sorts, and cow and steer did their best to ignore each other for the entirety of his beefy stay.
The adventures with that steer were in the back of my mind as I changed tack abruptly on where to put my two new additions for their second week here. The plan was to put them in ‘The Feedout’ paddock. But an hour before the move, the farmer neighbour put a big herd of cattle in the paddock alongside.
‘The Feedout’ had chainlink gates, and secure permanent wire fences on all four sides. Reasoning told me that there was no chance they’d jump the metre high fence or gate to join the herd. But remembering the yearling steer’s trauma and my own trauma back then, emotion trumped reason – I wasn’t going to risk it.
Plan B. Put them in with my three cows and hope they don’t plough through a temporary electric fence into the goat paddock above. If they do, well at least they’re still on the property!
“This is my territory!” behaviours operating in the animal kingdom mean that it’s usually better to have the dominant cattle beasts come into the territory of the subservient ones. But the logistics concerning suitable paddocks for doing that just hadn’t worked out this time.
So the calves were shunted in with the cows. I stood at the gate watching helplessly as the cows chased them round the paddock.
Their favourite ploy was aided and abetted by cattle instinctively running to higher ground. So at the high end of the paddock, which just so happened to have the fence with temporary electric wiring, they’d put pressure on them in such a way that the calves had but two options: career along the fence line or bolt through it!
A nudge from a cow would have been all that was needed to catapult them through those thin, flimsy, plastic wrapped wires. I was shouting “whoa” from way back down at the gate whenever the action got close to the point of no return. I’d like to think it slowed the cows down just enough to give the calves a chance to veer off the fence trajectory. One way of trying to convince yourself that you’re not just the hapless and helpless onlooker as disaster strikes.
But disaster didn’t strike. All that ‘catastrophizing’ for nothing. When not totally stressed out, like they were on first arrival, they’re not going to go through my electric fencing after all!
The cows tired their generously fleshed selves out after a while and gave up on the chase. And that was that – no chasing them round the paddock since! I still get amazed at just how quickly cattle can get themselves incredibly churned up, but equally, how rapidly they can calm down again. That’s why they say when you’ve just put them in the yards, it’s a good idea to leave them for half an hour to calm down before working with them.
It was interesting observing the difference between Violet’s approach to telling the calves to get out of her way compared with the other two. All Violet did was puff air in their direction from her nostrils – not even a snort. Calves far too low in the rankings to bother expending energy on. The other two, subordinate to Violet, felt they needed to be more demonstrative – snorting and running at them.
Not that there was much need for that over the first few days together, the calves keeping to one side of the paddock and the cows to the other. But since I moved them onto fresh pasture yesterday, they’ve been looking increasingly like a herd of five, as opposed to a herd of three cows with two calves camping out on a spot reserved for unwelcome migrants.
Guess I can put ‘catastrophe guy’ away till the next crisis – real or otherwise.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.