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Halter breaking an adult cow is BY FAR easier then halter breaking a calf. At least that’s how it’s been in my experience. Sometimes you have situations where you can’t just drive the cow, you need to lead her, and this is where halter breaking comes in handy.
Getting the halter on
A cow is generally eager to stuff her face into a pan of grain, which I use to get her halter on. Calves on the other hand, don’t care about grain. They want Mama and they in no way want anything on their heads.
My method for halter breaking an adult cow is fairly simple. Dump some grain into a flat pan, lay the rope halter over it so they have to stick their nose through the nose hole in order to get to their grain, and then pull it gently up on their face and tie it. I leave just the halter on for her to get a feel for it, before I attach a lead. I use the same method of the grain pan for attaching the lead.
When it’s time to go for our first walk, there might be a moment of thrashing about, but once she figures out that I’m not going anywhere she’ll usually calm down. Milk cows can be VERY stubborn. They plant their feet and there’s no moving anywhere…unless you can knock them off balance. I tend to go for the zig-zag approach. Maybe someday my husband can catch it on video for your entertainment.
When the cow decides that she’s happy in her little patch of dirt and doesn’t want to go any further, I pull her to one side and then the other to get her off balance and to move her feet. Mabel was much easier than Gigi was during this part simply because she is a smaller cow.
Small steps lead to big accomplishments! Remember that. Especially when you’re gritting your teeth pulling on her lead. Similar to halter breaking horses, when you have steady pressure on their lead and they give and come towards you, release pressure immediately. They’ll eventually get the idea. I love rope halters for this reason. It gives a little more pressure right behind their poll.
One thing that really helps aid the halter breaking process is having an incentive to move. For instance, Gigi had a routine where we put her out on grass during the day and back in the corral at night. She really is a routine girl and after some time she knew that having a halter on and following the leader meant she either got fresh green grass or some nice hay.
They are intelligent animals, but sometimes just need us to be patient. Very patient.
They are far more of a bovine challenge when it comes to halter breaking. In my experience, they can instantly turn from cute cuddly little calves into a giant bag of cement that just tipped over. I guess that is a defense mechanism?
When they’ve decided they don’t want to go any further and plant their feet then realize that you can match them in strength, they’ll flop over on the ground and lay there.
Their other option is just dropping to their knees. That’s a good one too.
Again, like with their mommas, they like incentives. I tried to put the halter on after I finished milking and the calves got to be reunited with their mommas. I’d send the cow out of the barn first, and then go catch the calf (I separate them at night, so they’re pretty hungry in the morning!)
The calf would usually be more than willing to follow momma with the halter on. Occasionally they’d try to take off with me and I’d be the one planting my feet.
It takes a lot of patience and laughs to get through halter breaking, but it’s worth it. Trust me.