Friday, March 19, 2010


I don't mind a little attitude, it gives animals

and people personality. Talking about a child with attitude, this one has it. You probably picked that up from the stance. Now she's not always easy to get along with being that her decisions are often emotional ones. Actually, always emotional ones and her grandma is extremely logically based. None the less, we adore each other and grow from our time together.
But when it comes to livestock there are a few things I don't tolerate. Orville here thinks he's a lady's man. And he does rule the roost right now but he's developed a real nasty streak this last week. Oh it's partly my fault being that I kept him with our mean Autralorp rooster. I thought I'd get by okay but once again I was a fool. How many times have I seen a calf turn out with a mean temperament just like it's mom because the traits were either inherit or taught.

That's why when a rancher, we admire, had a cow take down the hired hand and send him to the hospital he sent her to the sales ring the next day. She was already headed for the sales ring when she attacked him on a 4-wheeler almost knocking him off when he tried to move her to another pen that evening. Didn't matter how pretty her calf was or that she might of been overly protective because she had a calf. It isn't worth the risk, the headaches, or possible hospital bills. There are other animals out there who are just as nice looking and have a good personality too. Why perpetuate animals that have bad conformation or a ornery dispositions? I don't know about you but I don't need to make my days more difficult and challenging than they naturally are.

Our daughter had five surgeries over thirteen months due to an ornery FFA steer named Axton that pinned her in a horse trailer after she trimmed him one day for a show and he wasn't in a good mood about it. He used her as a punching bag with its head. Later we learned that his breed wasn't known for a sunny disposition. But in the end it was our fault because we didn't research breeds before we purchased him and we didn't establish enough dominance with him. It was his personal nature to rule. Since then I've had my Miss Beasleys who were a joy except once every few weeks when she tried again to establish dominance by lowering her head and forcefull pushing on me. The next time I got in the pen it was with a piece of 2 by 4 board reestablished that I was in charge by a firm rap on the bridge of her nose when she lowered her head. Being nice didn't get the job done but neither did I beat her. Just a mildly painful tap. She was as sweet and loving as ever for three more weeks. Then there was Jack who didn't care who was in charge. You could have crawled under and around that steer and he would of stood perfectly still.

This is Tinker Bell with Kirk playing a dominance game that reestablishes him as the alpha male. Note he is standing slightly sideways with his head lowered in a passive position so she will walk up to him.

Which brings me to the point that there are activities that you can do with different animals to establish yourself as the dominate one in the pecking order. My mare has a personality that makes her test you and she is ultra sensitive to body language being a visual learner. I never feed her and let her eat without first telling her she can. This is something the dominate horse in the pens or herd does. I place feed in my horse's feeder then step back a pace and turn sideways while tipping my head down. This signals that she may come forward and eat because that is a passive body position. Aggressive is squaring your body becoming large and moving toward her which is what I do if she tries to eat without permission. How nice it is to carry food without fear of her running me over or snatching it and missing burying her teeth in me instead. Looking directly into her eyes is another aggressive move.

Animals will learn to become desensitized to body language cues but they also loose respect and become less mannerly. Many owners just don't notice it until the horse jerks on the halter or worse, kicks or bites. When our middle daughter was a teenager she complained that my mare would snip at her. I couldn't hardly believe it and asked our daughter to walk up to my mare to see what was going on. Sure enough I saw subtle signs of nervousness and she bared her teeth. I changed the way our daughter walked up to her and The End. No more teeth bared. My mare wasn't establishing dominance she felt threatened.

After Axton we took a crash course from our neighbor, who is a horse whisperer so to speak, on what things different animals perceive as an aggressive move by humans. He had me stand in a pen full of mares and sometimes a stallion was present. Or it could be a group of geldings. I had to tell him what each animal was saying to the other. That way I also learned the differing behavior of males and females. A definite pecking order is involved and this will change as new animals are introduced or the younger members wish to move up the ladder. Then he taught me to think and move in a similar manner.

One no no move is bending down when directly facing a beef. I've stood in front of a steer and bent over as I scooped up manure. Wrong move as they immediately bend their head in a charging position. It will come back up as soon as you are no longer in that position if they haven't already charged. Most people never even notice animal's reactions to the way they position their bodies. But animals as a whole do not have large vocabulary and speak mostly through body language. If you understand it you can become a bit of a Doctor Doolittle. With every move you make around an animal you are speaking to them whether you know what you are saying or not. Therefore you are also training an animal every time you are around them for the good or bad. Animals that aren't handle often will consider you strange and often will be more tolerant of your misdirected body language. The problem comes in when you are excepted as part of the herd such as when you bottle feed a calf and you become its surrogate mother. When the calf reaches over 1000 pounds those cute aggressive moves such as pushing on you won't be funny anymore and more difficult to stop. My rule is don't allow any behavior when they are small that you don't want them doing when they are grown. Whether it is a 6 pound cat or a 12oo pound horse. You just confuse them with the mixed messaging and they will often become upset when you no longer except the behavior. This is can escalate the scene to a possible dangerous situation. For this reason I don't rub cattle on the forehead like you do horses. For horses it's a positive action for a domineering beef it means, Oh, you're rubbing my head, let me rub you back with my head which means he might just lower his head and hit you one. His love tap being rough enough to send you across the pen. I always rub beef on the neck. Some you'll get away with the head and they won't try anything as they are a passive personality.

With most animals you can teach them without even laying a hand on them if you understand body language. My mare if let loose in an arena will change direction and speed with hand signals. She will side pass, move her hips or shoulders over, stop, and even back without me laying a hand on her or her even having a halter on. My dad made fun of my training until one day I shifted her over and around into position in the horse trailer without touching her. He saw how much safer and handier it was. My mare is sensitive to body language being a visual learner. She is also very sensitive to tactile cues. As far as a verbal learner she's just fair. Many of you probably hadn't thought of animals as being a visual, tactile, or auditory learners. They are and so different training methods are more successful with different animals.Breeds have domineering personalities and traits also. Our son's dog has A.D.D. I swear it and you must be very firm with him and consistent. He wishes to be the Alpha and will test you continually. More so as a puppy but it is a trait of the German Wire-Hair breed. One tip with a bird dog is if you grab their flank they will naturally drop the bird in their mouth. Handy when your training a puppy that doesn't want to let go of the pheasant he just retrieved. So when Orville showed some real attitude - bad attitude - by attacking me big time with beak and spurs when my back was turned as I was just about to step out of the coop, I knew it was partly my fault. I'd left him with the ornery Australorp rooster having nowhere else to put him. I couldn't leave him in the coop with the hens for he'd remove all the feathers off their saddle like he did the past three weeks and it gets mighty cold around here. Oh I laid into him kicking his behind all the way out into the run. Unfortunately, the respect he gained won't last. He'll only get sneakier and wait for an opportune moment to strike again. Something I've learned from past roosters. Today, I found out he'd nailed Kirk last week. Just a peck on his hind leg when he was turned but none the less a bad move especially if he'd of had shorts on. He let him know who was boss but a week later he attacked me more.

It's a loosing battle. How do I know? Well, I've had a few ornery rooster over the many years we've raised them. I've never been able to teach them through becoming nice or acting the alpha either. So past experience has taught me they haven't enough brains to be re-trained. Over the years goats, sheep, horses, and beef cattle have all learned proper manners with careful training. Even the little buck sheep that within a few minutes of birth was hammering his mom and twin around with his head. He only did that to me a few times when he was little and he became a nice amicable show lamb for the kids without another problem.

So I don't care how much he crows about how cool he is. There's only one place he's headed. I'm inviting him to dinner this week. Want to come over, were having chicken noodle soup. The hen's eggs are in the incubator and his service to the flock is over. Little does he know that all his offspring are headed for the freezer anyway because I found out that Buff Orpington hens quit laying when the weather gets cold.

Now I'm left with the dilemma of what to do with the Australorp rooster. I wanted to put him in next and hatch some chickens, keeping a few of the hens. But the neighbor also has an Austrolorp rooster and he once acted aggressively but he hasn't since. We're guessing she might of moved in a way that the rooster perceived as threatening. Swinging a bucket, not moving slow enough and walking directly toward them will all be judged as aggressive actions to a chicken. He's been fine since so maybe Austrolorps are not a strong alpha type male.

I'm saddened because normally chickens like me and I try to move slow and deliberate around them. When I'm in the coop there is usually a Wyadotte and a Buff Orpington hen that follow me around standing next to me when I stop and I reach down an pet them. The Wyadotte has much to say to me though I can't understand a word but I uhuh along agreeing with her. My hens stay on the nest and I can pet them and reach under to slip the eggs out. As for cocks, I've had several pet roosters but the three roosters I have now are not among them. Last year we had Puff Head, a Polish rooster. We adored him and he gave us more entertainment than any rooster we've ever had. He slept with the barn cats and even ate cat food with the barn cats. They excepted him as one of their own. He never did start catching mice though preferring to remain a welfare recipient.

As for the Autralorp, do I dare breed him to my hens? I know in some breeds all the roosters are mean. That I know because I had a conversation one time with a hatchery owner. But I think the problem with our Australorp was that some town kids teased him. The neighbors had trouble the same summer with their hens.

Have you any advice for me?

If I can find a nice Wyadotte rooster this summer, he's coming home with me. I've had several and two ended up pets until they died of old age. What about Barred Rock roosters? That was the breed that was running loose attacking us. I like the personality of my two hens are the roosters as nice? Then again the hatchery owner said some of the breeds have nice hens but mean roosters. What's a girl to do?

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