It’s been a week since we brought Lola home. Holy cow have we come a LONG WAY!!! Thankfully Lola and May have become very good friends. You can see I’ve made separate pens for them, even though May finds a way to sneak into Lola’s area sometimes (goats!), and when she does, she rips apart Lola’s hay and throws it all on the ground (goats!!!)
I think it was the third day Lola was here that I decided to try taking her out to walk on her halter. She was getting antsy confined to the stall, and was doing ok in there with me haltering her and tugging her around. By day 3 she had come to associate me with good things, like handfuls of grass, lots of brushing time and also she just loves alfalfa cubes! I was nervous to find out if the halter would keep her 500 pounds of beastliness under control. She’d been tossing her horns at me a little bit in the stall, and I chalked it up to her restlessness but feared the worst that she might beginning to become aggressive.
A Highland Breeders group on Facebook erupted over controversy about my question on how to halter train a young highland; some said tie her up and let her figure it out over the course of several hours, some said be kind and patient, give her space and take your time. I ended up doing a combo of both. What also helped me summon my courage was a couple of articles I read in back issues of the Bagpipe, the journal of the Highland Breeder’s Association, which our neighbors Mark and Tracy gave me to peruse. One was about safe handling of cattle, and another was an article about Cow Camp- young kids training young highlands to be handleable and walk on halters in a weekend. If kids can do this, so can I!
First I brought MayMay out to her tether. Then I put on Lola’s halter/lead and opened the gate to the stall. I wore gloves to prevent rope burn in case things got crazy. I brought handfuls of grass with me to coax her out. She had no idea what this pulling on her head thing was about, but oh, there’s grass in your hand? I’ll come forward a few steps, and so on. I reached close enough to the massive trunk of one of the old apple trees and tied her to it. She began to “Roomba” the grass around the tree immediately, not paying attention to the halter anymore. I stood back and watched to make sure she didn’t get tangled. Sure enough, soon the spunky spark hit and she tried to run, but then hit the end of her lead and faceplanted into the grass. I watched her, and she stood up and composed herself. This happened once more, and then she understood she could not do as she pleased when her halter was on. She taught herself, or maybe the apple tree taught her. I untied her and gently pulled her to next test spot a 100 feet away, I had to pull quite a bit, but she was showing already an understanding of the power of her halter. She also really had bonded to May and wanted to go nearer to her, so we walked over to where May was tethered at the watering trailer. I tied Lola up again, and she did not repeat the faceplant lesson or do any pulling, she had learned amazingly quickly! After she grazed a while, enjoying the luscious grass growing where the calves and turkeys and geese had fertilized it last year, I grew bold and decided to see if she would walk with me. Lola was more interested in eating the grass than walking, but we did a little strut down the path, and she even got a skip in her step and did a little joyful kick, which I noted- it wasn’t at me, on her other side, but I don’t want to get in the middle of a joyful kick!
Every day since then, after my egg chores are finished and the afternoon chores are done, I have been spending a couple hours with May and Lola out on walks. A few friends have come out in the last week, so Lola is getting innoculated into a world with lots of variety each day and different people, which is awesome. We’ve hung out and drunk beer with Lola and May. I’ve brought them to the pavement road to walk on it, and continue to take new paths around the farm to keep things new and exciting so she is learning that all these new things are ok.
Some days I bring the brush and curry comb her as she grazes. When I hit a particularly fine scratchy spot, she stops and holds totally still and then her extremely long tongue comes out, curling and swiping across her nose, over and over. I can’t wait to see her summer coat emerge, as she’s brindle and this means her tiger-ey stripes will become more obvious as her winter fuzz sheds out. Almost everyday she and May and I go out to the hayfield. I have to bring the camera next time, it is so gorgeous in that pre-dusk light, a glowing highland heifer and a stoic goat galloping with me across the new spring grass.