San Juan Island Highlands
Our two Scottish Highland cows, Matcha and Oolong, are now almost three years old and my, how they have grown! When they moved to our farm, they looked like this:
Their horns protruded horizontally out of their heads and were only about 6-8” long. Now, their horns have grown to three or four times that size (we haven’t measured) and have turned upward.
Matcha (red steer) and Oolong (black heifer) have very different personalities. Matcha is mellow, loves to be brushed and is generally a slow mover in every way. His only aggressive act is that when he finally arrives at his hay bunk for meals he will push Oolong away by moving her with his horns; he MUST have his pick of the two bunks first. Oolong by contrast is inquisitive, full of herself, skiddish, meaning she won’t let us touch her and by no means brush her, seemingly daring us to even try.
The highlands were purchased for the tea farm to provide manure, which they are excellent at. What I didn’t expect then was how much I would come to enjoy them and what amazing animals they are.
Since I have a lot of time on my hands, I’ve been researching highlands on the internet. I have become mesmerized by a farmer on You Tube, Marc, who also has two highlands, now about six years old, Hamish and Kyloe, from Thistle Do Farm located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. www.thistledofarm.com or facebook.com/Hamish.Kyloe.
Marc has an incredible relationship with his highlands and has numerous videos showing him leaning against them enjoying his coffee, sitting on them and endlessly brushing them which it seems he does hours on end. Encouraged by this bonding of bovine and human, I have set a personal goal to develop a similar relationship with our highlands.
So my first thought was to get them to come to me by bribing them with food. I’ve tried apples, carrots; no interest, soaked alfalfa cubes; some interest and then I bought a bag of grain, corn based which they are wild about. Holding the grain in my hand was a little alarming, first due to the proximity of their horns when they’re close enough to eat out of my hand and second, I found out they don’t eat out of your hand like a horse, rather they try to wrap their tongues around the food. So I thought, maybe it would be better to get a large scoop and let them eat out of that. That worked much better; still a bit of a problem with the horns but they and I were able to deal with the tongues better. Next time I decided to just put the grain in bowls and let them eat it that way and this method seemed to work the best. So by now I’m feeling pretty good about myself as I can call them and show them the bowls and they come running-I mean they come running at full speed from the top of the hill, sliding to a stop in front of me. Not comfortable! They are now all over me and not polite about it. (I’m sure any cattle farmer is by now laughing their you know what’s off). This bad (trained) behavior has now spilled over to their daily feedings of hay. They are all over my space when I enter their field to fill their hay bunks and last night Oolong horned a flake of hay out of my arms; not cool. So I fear that I have created two 1000 lb. horned monsters.
Back to the drawing board. No more treats. My mistake was to think that I could buy their friendship with treats. Yes, they want the treats, but unfortunately will do anything to get them including run over me. So my new idea is to wait until the season changes and we are out of the mud. Then I’ll attempt to sit with them while they’re sitting and chewing their cud, with no unregurgitated food involved.
I have horses that have been trained in 'natural horsemanship', which is a method of understanding and speaking 'horse' to interact with them so that they understand the human is alpha by using behavior they use to interact with other horses. Not sure if there is such a thing as 'natural cowmanship', maybe I need to wear a cow suit complete with a hat with horns so I can move them off like any self respecting cow would do. I'll get back to you on that...